The International Bar Association said Friday that it has cancelled training for defense attorneys wishing to practice at the Khmer Rouge tribunal following a call by the Cambodian Bar Association to boycott the 5-day course.
The IBA, the world’s largest professional association of lawyers, said the Cambodian Bar Association issued orders forbidding lawyers from attending the training, which was to start Monday and was organized in conjunction with the tribunal’s Defense Office.
Bar President Ky Tech publicly warned of “measures” against attendees and the IBA for hosting the training, the IBA said in a statement. The Cambodian bar had also wanted to control the selection of course participants and speakers.
“The prohibition by the Cambodian Bar is part of a wider scheme of opposition designed to obstruct the operation of the tribunal,” the IBA wrote in a statement.
The training course was intended to improve legal services and the administration of justice in Cambodia, as well as inform the Cambodian public about international justice, IBA Executive Director Mark Ellis said in the statement.
“The Bar’s actions represent a disturbing development in the functioning of international justice, placing obstacles in the path of bringing those accused of international crimes to trial,” Ellis said.
“It is unacceptable that the Cambodian Bar, which should share these objectives, is seeking to frustrate them in this way,” he added.
Ky Tech said the IBA had made the right decision by canceling the course.
“They made the right decision,” Ky Tech said.
“We will cooperate with them if they cooperate with us. Next time, I ask for cooperation first,” he said.
He also denied that he is motivated by an agenda, or is part of a scheme to derail the trial of former Khmer Rouge leaders for atrocities committed during their 1975-1979 regime.
“I don’t have any intention to block the tribunal. When they made their complaint they accused me of obstructing. I am not obstructing, I am trying to find a solution,” he said.
Foreigner lawyers will not be permitted to practice at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, Ky Tech said, adding that he met the ECCC’s Principal Defender Rupert Skilbeck on Thursday and told him so directly.
Ky Tech added that he did not recognize Skilbeck’s title or role at the ECCC’s Defense Office.
“He also asked us that foreign lawyers be allowed to speak at the tribunal equal to Cambodian lawyers. But the law states that [foreigners] only have the right to accompany [Cambodian lawyers],” Ky Tech said.
ECCC Spokesman Reach Sambath said that the cancellation of the legal training course, which the Defense Office and the IBA said was essential for tribunal lawyers, would not affect the tribunal.
“They still have more opportunities to work out their differences. They can conduct the training at any time,” he said.
“In every country, they have their own law.”
Sok Sam Oeun, executive director of the legal NGO Cambodian Defenders Project, said that misunderstanding between the bar association and the Defense Office was at the root of their fractious relationship.
The bar association may feel that the Defense Office, which is currently trying to train lawyers, is challenging its status, Sok Sam Oeun said.
“Both sides don’t understand each other,” he said, adding “the bar association doesn’t understand the role of the other side for sure.”