The Khmer Rouge tribunal yesterday warned all lawyers at the court against leaking information to the news media after allegations of political interference at the court appeared in The Cambodia Daily.
In a ruling, Pre-Trial Chamber President Prak Kimsan cited two articles published last month about defense efforts to sanction judges and Cambodian officials for allegedly interfering in the court’s work.
“The Pre-Trial Chamber did not give The Cambodia Daily access to any part of the matters,” Judge Kimsan wrote in a ruling, which bore only his signature.
Though lawyers may wish to make documents public, this determination rests solely with judges and any violation of this rule may result in unspecified punishment, he said.
The warning made no specific accusations, but appeared aimed at defense lawyers, who have often alleged that their arguments are kept from public view to spare the court’s embarrassment.
The warning followed a pleading filed Wednesday in which lawyers for Brother Number Two Nuon Chea flouted such restrictions by delivering a document directly to the news media.
“The instant request contains no material which has not already been the subject of extensive media coverage, nor does it specifically refer to the allegations…in the introductory submission,” wrote lawyers Michiel Pestman and Victor Koppe, referring to prosecutors’ confidential allegations of 2007.
“Accordingly, this document should be classified as a public one. In any event, the defense will treat it as such,” they wrote, noting that they had themselves blacked out information that could be sensitive.
Lawyers for former Foreign Minister Ieng Sary have twice been warned by the court to respect confidentiality. After a warning in March last year, Ieng Sary’s lawyers removed confidential pleadings from an independent website the defense created to circumvent restrictions on information.
The June 24 article cited by the court yesterday did not result from a leak, but was announced by the Ieng Sary team in a summary of a pleading published on the website, something the defense has done repeatedly since being forced to remove confidential documents last year.
In his warning, Judge Kimsan cited this article and a June 28 article about a motion by Nuon Chea’s lawyers seeking to disqualify Co-Investigating Judge You Bunleng for alleged political bias.
Though the Nuon Chea document was obtained confidentially, its existence was confirmed by the court’s chief of public affairs.
Michael Karnavas, an American lawyer for Ieng Sary, said yesterday that the court’s e-mail document distribution list allowed for “unfettered access to just about anyone.”
“Much of what should be public is deemed, for no reason at all, as confidential. Why the lack of transparency?” he wrote in an e-mail.
The Open Society Justice Initiative, which monitors the tribunal, expressed similar sentiments in a report issued Tuesday.
“It is impossible to judge the appropriateness of keeping specific documents secret because we do not have access to them,” the report said, claiming undue secrecy could “contribute to a cover up rather than a solution” to perceived misdeeds.
Lars Olsen, the court’s legal communications officer, said secrecy was strictly within the judges’ purview.
“Because the law and the rules are very clear, it’s not for anyone but the judges to determine the classifications” of documents, he said.