The Khmer Rouge tribunal has the potential to exert stricter control over journalists than the domestic courts of Cambodia, media lawyer Mike Fowler said March 7.
Under the its internal rules, the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia may sanction or refer to Cambodian or UN authorities “any person who knowingly and willfully interferes with the administration of justice,” by, for example, disclosing confidential information.
Those rules do not explicitly limit the court’s jurisdiction to its staff members or parties to the proceedings, and court officials have said that anyone, inside or outside the court, could be reprimanded.
“In asserting authority over any person, yes, the Internal Rules of the ECCC go beyond Cambodian law,” Fowler said March 7 at a conference on press freedom hosted by the Cambodian Club of Journalists and the Documentation Center of Cambodia.
“The Cambodian press law has no provision that would allow for the punishment of someone who publishes something in violation of a judge’s order. The press law also says pre-publication censorship shall be prohibited. That seems to me to preclude punishment for that kind of action,” he added.
Nuon Pharat, a legal officer at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, said the rule in question was a compromise hammered out after much debate by tribunal judges, who were split over whether the court should have the power to consider contempt cases or not.
“In the text it’s like this. In practice it would be more tolerant,” he said in an interview after the panel discussion.
Nuon Pharat said the sanctions enshrined in the internal rules were intended to give the ECCC power to punish staff members who leak confidential information. He said the rule as it stands is “unclear, and will be difficult in its application.”
Friday’s panel on press freedom and the need for confidentiality at the ECCC will be followed later this month by a day-long conference on the same topic, said tribunal spokesman Reach Sambath.