Two prominent international lawyers this week joined international judges at the Khmer Rouge tribunal in condemning the high fees the Cambodian Bar Association plans to charge foreign lawyers wishing to work at the court.
Well-known New York attorney Floyd Abrams, who visited Cambodia on behalf of the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights in 1984, said the fees—$4,900 for the first year—would “plainly deter” potential foreign defense lawyers, who are likely to be human rights lawyers of modest means, from participating.
“The real issue, however, is not the size of the registration fee,” he wrote in an e-mail Monday. “It is the will of the Cambodian government, judges, and lawyers to proceed with a long-overdue and already far too delayed trial.”
Attorney Mark Ellis, the executive director of the International Bar Association, said the proposed fees were extortionate, and appeared aimed at benefitting the bar.
“In doing so, it diminishes the role the bar association should have in providing international justice,” Ellis said by telephone from London on Monday.
Bar President Ky Tech on Wednesday denied that the bar was attempting to extort money and said that the International Bar Association was “biased towards their own foreign lawyers.”
Ky Tech declined to say exactly what the fee revenue would be used for, saying only that the money would be spent to “support the legal profession.” “I think the fee price is suitable and reasonable,” Ky Tech said Monday.
Given the restricted scope of prosecution at the Khmer Rouge tribunal, Ky Tech added, the fees from foreign lawyers involved in the tribunal would likely amount to only about $20,000 in total.
Ellis said that if supporting the Cambodian legal profession were the bar’s true intention in setting high fees, he was confident the international community would step up with additional funds.
“If we see the bar acting in good faith and in the best interests of the legal profession, I think the international community would line up to help,” Ellis said.
Laurent Lemarchand, first counselor at the French Embassy, said the bar association has cited the need to fund its legal aid program, which pays lawyers to defend poor clients, as a justification for the size of the fees demanded of foreign lawyers at the ECCC.
Lawyers working for the poor in Cambodia already receive significant international support, and the EU and the French government have given about $860,000 to French NGO Avocats Sans Frontieres to support pro bono legal work in Cambodia, he said.
“I just hope everyone rises to the occasion and doesn’t get bogged down in petty cash accounting,” Lemarchand said.
German Ambassador Pius Fischer said securing additional funds for the bar would be an inappropriate solution to the current impasse at the ECCC.
“The bar association should keep in mind that the international community pays 80 percent of the budget of the tribunal,” he said.
“Even the Cambodian contribution to this tribunal is mainly covered by countries of India, the European Union and the United Nations. I don’t see any need for additional funds being set up for the bar association,” he added.
(Additional reporting by Douglas Gillison)