Cambodian and foreign judges failed on Jan 26 to reach agreement at the conclusion of two weeks of negotiations to resolve a dispute over internal court rules that has bogged down the Khmer Rouge tribunal since November.
The rules committee of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia will now meet again in March to continue negotiations, the ECCC said in a statement on the evening of Jan 26.
A key issue to be resolved, the ECCC said, was the right of foreign defense council to appear before the $56-million UN-funded tribunal. In October, the Cambodian Bar Association rigorously objected to allowing foreign defense lawyers to participate in the UN-backed tribunal, saying that such inclusion could only be granted if the countries from which the lawyers hail grant “reciprocal rights” for Cambodian lawyers to practice law in their courts.
Certain members of the ECCC’s international contingent have threatened to walk away from the tribunal unless Khmer Rouge leaders can be guaranteed a strong legal defense.
“We are acutely aware of the urgent need to ensure fair and open trials for the benefit of the Cambodian people and we are committed to achieving that goal,” the rules committee was quoted in the ECCC statement.
The committee includes five Cambodian judges: You Bunleng, Mong Monichariya, Prak Kim San, Kong Srim and Sin Rith, who work with with four international judges: Angnieszka Klonowiescka-Milart, Marcel Lemonde, Silvia Cartwright and Claudia Fenz.
Center for Social Development Executive Director Theary Seng said the failure to reach agreement confirms the Cambodian public’s worst fears about the Khmer Rouge tribunal.
“It only confirms our suspicion that this is a strategy of delay, that the government does not take this tribunal seriously,” she said. “Already by March, nearly one third of the time of the tribunal will have been wasted, and what will we have to show for it? A discussion of rules.”
Government spokesman and Information Minister Khieu Kanharith said the government was not behind any delays in the adoption of the tribunal’s rules. He accused an unnamed ECCC official of spreading misinformation to journalists that called into question the government’s commitment to the tribunal.
“The court has a public information officer to speak, but someone came to tell the media in a restaurant when it is not their official duty,” he said.
Documentation Center of Cambodia Director Youk Chhang was more conciliatory however, saying that ECCC judges had said already they needed until March or April to resolve the rules issues.