The Cambodian Bar Association’s decision to significantly reduce fees paid by foreign lawyers participating in the Khmer Rouge tribunal will likely break the deadlock at the court and allow crucial procedural rules to be adopted by the end of May, court sources said Sunday.
The bar on Saturday announced its decision to charge foreign lawyers a one-time application fee of $500. This is far less than the fees—$4,900 in the first year for lawyers selected to represent clients—that it had initially proposed.
The tribunal’s UN public affairs officer, Peter Foster, called the bar’s decision to lower the fees “a very positive development.”
International judges at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia said in March that the fee issue was the last roadblock to adopting the procedural rules, without which a trial cannot proceed. They argued that high fees would restrict the participation of foreign lawyers, undermining the ability of victims and defendants to access lawyers of their choice.
Foster said Sunday that international judges are considering the bar’s revised fee structure and plan to announce today whether they deem it acceptable. If they do, a full plenary of judges could be called at the end of May to vote to adopt the procedural rules, which would allow prosecutions to move forward, he added.
“It’s likely the plenary will be called,” one person close to the negotiations said on condition of anonymity. “I can’t imagine that for $500 the process could be blocked now.”
Speaking at a press conference Saturday, Nou Tharith, the bar association’s new spokesman, said that Japan had played a key role in brokering the compromise.
“The most important reason for the change in formula is based on mutual respect with Japan, which has been a long-term partner,” he said. Japan will continue to support the bar, but the details of that partnership have yet to be settled, he added.
A Japanese Embassy official did not respond to requests for comment.
Nou Tharith emphasized that the bar’s decision to reduce the fees had been made independently, in the interests of justice, rather than in response to political pressures.
“The bar association thinks about the people who are waiting for justice,” he said. “We are not concerned with national or international pressure.”
The weeks leading up to Saturday’s announcement saw a flurry of behind-the-scenes diplomatic activity to push through the impasse.
Nou Tharith said Saturday that bar officials had met three times with Japanese diplomats to discuss the fee issue. Canadian Ambassador Donica Pottie met with Bar Association President Ky Tech, and Australia’s new Ambassador, Margaret Adamson, said Sunday that a delegation of Australian parliamentarians last week met with both ECCC and government officials to discuss the tribunal. German Ambassador Pius Fischer said that he had spoken with Prime Minister Hun Sen about the tribunal in January and discussed the fee issue with senior government officials last week.
Several foreign diplomats and Cambodian tribunal judges praised the bar’s decision.
“I’m pleased the fees have been dropped so significantly and commend the bar for taking this up again,” Pottie said. “I hope the international judges will see this as a good-faith effort by the Cambodian Bar Association and allow the plenary to go forward.”
Fischer called the bar’s decision “very welcome.”
“These are crimes committed on Cambodians, by Cambodian perpetrators in Cambodia. If the bar association would have been the reason for the failure of this trial, it would have been shameful,” he said, adding that he was hopeful that the deadlock on the internal rules had been broken.
ECCC Trial Chamber Judge Thou Mony said he was happy with the apparent progress.
“People have been waiting for justice for a long time. I believe there will be no more obstacles,” he said.
ECCC Supreme Court Chamber Reserve Judge Mong Monichariya also welcomed the news. “The reduction in fees is good for the progress of the ECCC,” he said.
“We cannot blame anyone for the deadlock.”