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International judges at UN-backed Khmer Rouge trials say fee dispute rules out meeting

International judges at UN-backed Khmer Rouge trials say fee dispute rules out meeting

International judges at the United Nations-backed trials of former Khmer Rouge leaders, accused of mass killings and other horrific crimes during the late 1970s, said today they would not hold a plenary session this month to adopt the court’s internal rules because Cambodian barristers were still insisting on a $4,900 fee for foreign lawyers, something the judges warn goes against all international practice.

In a letter to the Supreme Court Chamber of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), the judges said they were “saddened that at the time of writing, the Cambodian Bar had not reconsidered its position” over the first-year fee, which they added would create a prohibitive entry cost.

The proposed fee would severely limit the number of foreign lawyers able to appear before the ECCC and would allow the accused to argue that they have not been afforded the right to have the counsel of their choice, thereby breaching the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the judges believe.

Further, such a fee would exclude many lawyers that are volunteering to represent victims for free, as they would be left significantly out of pocket for offering their services pro bono, according to a press statement released in Phnom Penh, the Cambodian capital.

The international judges expressed hopes that discussions between the Cambodian Bar and the ECCC’s Defence Support Section would lead to an acceptable solution but the statement emphasized that the “window of opportunity is closing quickly and they simply cannot allow for endless delays.”

This dispute is the latest delay in the long-awaited trials, and the international judges said they would re-examine the situation during the last week of this month, adding that if no progress has been made they will propose organizing the participation of foreign lawyers without the assistance of the Cambodian Bar Association, in line with established practice in other international and hybrid tribunals.

Judges and prosecutors for the trials were sworn in last July. Under an agreement signed by the UN and Cambodia, the trial court and a Supreme Court within the Cambodian legal system will investigate those most responsible for crimes and serious violations of Cambodian and international law between 17 April 1975 and 6 January 1979.

The UN will pay $43 million of the $56.3 million budget for the trials, with the Cambodian Government providing $13.3 million.