CAMBODIA: The Bar Association’s charge of exorbitant fees to foreign lawyers is immoral and is obstructing the Khmer Rouge trial

In January 2007, while international judges and their Cambodian counterparts on the Khmer Rouge tribunal were working on the internal rules for the hearings, the Bar Association of the Kingdom of Cambodia (BAKC), which is widely known to be under government control, decided to impose a lump sum registration fee of US $ 3000 on foreign lawyers who participate in the trial. The decision was made after BAKC had been pressurised to meet the rights of the accused, by allocating them access to legal counsel of their choice and to lift its objection to allowing foreign lawyers to take part. On 12 March, under further pressure, the BAKC restructured this fee into different categories including a US $ 500 membership application, a US $ 2,000 registration fee when selected to represent a client, plus an additional US $ 200 a month. There are no such registration fees for Cambodian lawyers except a monthly BAKC membership fee of US $ 10.

It is clear that the registration fees are exorbitant, and in a statement dated March 16, international judges found them “unacceptable on the ground that “it severely limits the rights of the accused and victims to select counsel of their choice. They considered that ‘the failure to fix an appropriate fee places an obstacle to adopting the [internal] Rules.

The BAKC’s decision has further prolonged the already long-awaited trial and perpetuated doubts about the Cambodian government’s sincerity and will to hold this trial at all. This comes ten years after the government originally sought assistance from the United Nations in creating an international tribunal to try the Khmer Rouge. Actually, the Cambodian government has since changed its mind to hold an international tribunal modelled on the ones seen in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia; rather, they have now instituted a tribunal that functions under Cambodian jurisdiction and includes the participation of international judges. Furthermore, it has been one obstacle after another that has put doubt on the trial ever coming to light.¬†The government insisted that Cambodian judges be in the majority on the tribunal; two co-prosecutors and two co-investigating judges (one international and the other Cambodian) be instituted. Also, the government claims that they lack resources to fund its small share in the tribunal’s budget of US $ 56 million. Consequently, the UN had to yield to all its demands in order to move the trial process forward.

However, the tribunal could not be formally created until the appointment of the judges in May 2006. These judges were sworn-in in July and immediately set out to work on the internal rules for the tribunal so as to ensure that international standards and norms of justice are being met and that a smooth trial takes place even when the Cambodian law on criminal procedure proves inadequate. Regrettably, the trial has been delayed and the targeted Khmer Rouge leaders are aging.

Since 1997, these delays have been very agonising for the millions of surviving victims of the Khmer Rouge massacres and the relatives of the dead who have all been craving justice since the ousting of the Khmer Rouge way back in 1979. This is the last chance for the Cambodian people to seek justice since most of the Khmer Rouge perpetrators are aging. For example, three weeks after the swearing in of Ta Mok, nicknamed the butcher, the senior Khmer Rouge leader died of old-age and in custody. He had been detained since his capture in 1998, and passed away on 21 July 2006 at the age of 82.

The only explanation why these delays happen is political motivation. The majority of Cambodian judges are politically controlled through their affiliations with the ruling party and have not readily agreed with their international counterparts. Rather, they have held steadfastly to the Cambodian laws and practices thereby delaying further the holding of the actual trial. In mid-March, all judges had a convergence of views on the internal rules and were ready to adopt them, but BAKC’s decision came as a spike in the wheel to add more delays to the process and push back the trial.

Since the trial is already expected to take over three years, the BAKC must be condemned for their action in imposition exorbitant fees, which has no doubt brought more delays and may even be the reason why the trial proceedings collapse altogether. The Bar Association’s move is immoral and reprehensible. This must be looked at as an inhuman act against bringing an end to the long-suffering Cambodian people.

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) strongly urges the Bar Association of the Kingdom of Cambodia to immediately reverse its decision. For the sake of justice and for the Cambodian people, it must not impose any fee at all. The prerequisite of any human being is the ability to think, and the bar association must show that it does indeed have an ounce of humanity and think of the dire consequences that will happen if justice is not achieved in Cambodia. The BACK must facilitate the participation of foreign lawyers, especially when Cambodian lawyers have yet to prove that they are up to the task. The AHRC also urges donors, UN agencies, international agencies, lawyers, the human rights community and all justice-loving people to put pressure on the BAKC to waive all fees for foreign lawyers, and also on the Cambodian government to stop creating further obstacles for the Khmer Rouge tribunal.

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AS-063-2007
Countries : Cambodia,