For the second time in a year, investigating judges at the Khmer Rouge tribunal yesterday threatened to sanction defense lawyers for the Pol Pot regime’s former Foreign Minister Ieng Sary for alleged violations of confidentiality and seeking to conduct independent investigations.
Defense lawyers Michael Karnavas and Ang Udom in March of last year were also threatened with unspecified sanctions for posting material deemed confidential by the tribunal to a website created independently. No sanctions were ultimately imposed in that case.
Yesterday’s strongly worded order from the tribunal’s Judges Marcel Lemonde and You Bunleng continued what have become combative relations with defense teams, who last year unsuccessfully sought Judge Lemonde’s disqualification from the court, unearthing damaging statements from a former court investigator and declaring a lack of confidence in the court’s investigations.
In their order yesterday, Judges Lemonde and Bunleng cited an internal rule on the misconduct of lawyers and officially warned Mr Karnavas and Mr Udom against repeatedly raising the same matter in legal documents and marking legal pleadings as public.
Defense lawyers, who are accustomed at other courts to filing public motions and collecting their own evidence for trial, have chafed at the constraints placed on them at the Khmer Rouge tribunal, which requires all investigations to be carried out by judges.
In a Feb 10 letter, the Ieng Sary defense informed Judges Lemonde and Bunleng of their desire to collect their own evidence, a proposal that the judges said they had already denied in 2008.
Two other communications this month had also already been dealt with, the judges told the lawyers.
“[T]he co-investigating judges find that the content and degree of repetition amounts to an abuse of process,” Judges Bunleng and Lemonde found, warning that further breeches would result in sanctions.
In an e-mail yesterday, Mr Karnavas said that, while the judges claimed his communications were repetitious, they had failed to penalize similar communications in the past.
“We have never sought to circumvent or abuse the rules. We will continue pressing the OCIJ to the extent we believe is relevant and necessary,” he wrote. “When transparency is permissible and appropriate, we will not shy away from engaging the public in these historic proceedings,” he added.