One of the world’s most esteemed international law academies ends its tenure in Phnom Penh today with the close of a two-week international law course attended by lawyers, diplomats and government officials from Cambodia and 12 other countries.
Covering topics including the World Trade Organization and international criminal courts, the Hague Academy of International Law offered a survey of international law at a time when Cambodia’s understanding of the system is soon to be tested.
The academy, which shares the Netherlands compound with the UN high court at The Hague but is not directly affiliated with it, was founded in the 19th century as a training institution in international law. It offers one course annually in a developing country.
“The idea is to provide knowledge of international law among young professionals,” said academy Secretary-General Genevieve Bastid-Burdeau.
The approximately 60 Cambodian participants included lawyers, lawmakers and other government officials.
With the Khmer Rouge tribunals looming in the future, of particular interest to several participants was a session on international criminal courts by Raul Pangalangan, dean and law professor at the University of the Philippines.
Tribunals made of both foreign and local judges, as East Timor’s was and as Cambodia’s will be, are often cheaper and more efficient than those run by an international court, Pangalangan said.
The disadvantage to such a trial, he said, “is then you have to deal with the domestic legal system.”
“If the domestic legal system if not developed, mature, [or] sufficiently insulated from politics, then that is a problem,” he said.
Local participants applauded the sessions, but some said challenges facing Cambodia’s legal system could impact its application of international law. “You can select a neutral lawyer [in Cambodia] without influence of pressure…but it is a rare bird,” said Sok Mathoeung of the Arbitration Council.