A five-day training course on international law to prepare young Cambodian lawyers to work at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia ends today in Phnom Penh.
The course, offered by the ECCC’s Defense Support Section, the Cambodian Bar Association and the International Bar Association, is a fresh sign of cooperation between the Cambodian bar and the international side of the court, whose relationship has been riven with conflict.
The resolution of that conflict gained new urgency this week. Foreign and Cambodian tribunal judges are scheduled to announce today the results of their latest round of discussions over the tribunal’s internal rules, and some of the most contentious issues in the protracted rules debate have concerned the defense.
At Raffles Hotel Le Royal, 60 young Cambodian lawyers, who were selected by lottery from 98 applicants, have been getting a crash course in international criminal law, genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.
“At university, we studied the theory of international law but not the details,” said participant Chin Lida, adding that he was impressed by the training.
Few law schools, whether in Cambodia, the US or Britain, cover subjects such as genocide and crimes against humanity in any depth, said ECCC Principal Defender Rupert Skilbeck. Moreover, genocide and crimes against humanity are not concepts included in Cambodian law.
“That’s why we have pushed so hard to have international experts who can act as co-lawyers,” he added. “You can’t be an expert in a week.”
The ECCC’s draft budget allocates $246,703 for training, none of which is slated for the defense, Skilbeck said. “I wasn’t so happy about that,” he added.
Skilbeck said he has raised $25,000 for two courses this month—the current one, and another for more experienced lawyers to be offered in cooperation with the bar and the University of California, Berkeley in the US—and he is waiting to hear back on several other funding requests.
Ly Tayseng, secretary-general of the Cambodian Bar Association, said he felt “lucky and grateful” for the training. But he added that Cambodia probably has enough foreign-educated lawyers with a good understanding of international law to handle the anticipated caseload at the ECCC alone.
“Working with [foreign] co-defense council is important, but we can’t generalize,” he said. He estimated that 10 percent of the bar’s 530 members have foreign law degrees. “I believe they could work alone,” he said. “It depends on an individual’s capacity.”
Stuart Alford—a panelist who was a leading prosecutor at East Timor’s war crimes tribunal and has worked at the Iraqi tribunal and at the International Criminal Court based in the Netherlands—said that he has been impressed by the perceptive questions from
Many of those questions centered on immunity, amnesty and genocide. “They are asking real questions about real people, without naming names,” Alford said. “We, on the panel, can’t give them answers to that, nor should we—all we can do is explain the principles the court might apply.”