Members of the Cambodian Bar Association’s executive council have been issued multiple letters this week encouraging a quick end to its presidential dispute and voicing concern over the future of the Lawyers Training Center.
In a joint statement, the Japan Federation of Bar Associations, the Canadian Bar Association and the American Bar Association said the council must ensure it can do its job if these associations are to continue supporting the center.
“It is crucial to us that the members of the Bar Council cooperate in fulfilling the functions required for the operation of the Lawyers Training Center,” reads the letter dated last Friday and addressed to the 19 elected council members who make executive decisions for the bar.
“Without the assurance of the bar council that it is committed to the smooth operation of the Lawyers Training Center, it would be difficult for us to continue our support,” the letter read.
The bar council has been split since former bar president Ky Tech challenged the results of the Oct 16 election in which legal aid lawyer Suon Visal defeated him.
The case has gone back and forth several times and is now before the Supreme Court for the second time.
The bar council is responsible for administering the center’s entrance exam, as well as approving the list of first-year students admitted and filling teaching positions.
It also swears in graduating students and approves placements for the graduates’ one-year internships.
The three associations said the dispute was an internal matter that should be dealt with in the civil courts, a statement echoed by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Cambodia on Thursday.
“We believe that all criminal charges in this case should be completely and immediately dismissed,” the UNHCHR said in its statement.
Suon Visal was charged with forgery on June 30 for allegedly creating a new seal and naming himself as president on the association’s stationary after the Supreme Court annulled an earlier Appeals Court decision reinstating Ky Tech as bar association president.
The charge was prompted by a complaint by Ky Tech, who has refused to give up the association’s seal since he was defeated in the Oct 16 elections.
The Japanese International Cooperation Agency also sent a letter Thursday supporting the foreign bar associations and calling for an assurance in writing that the council is committed to the training center.
“In light of the urgent need to produce quality lawyers to serve the people of Cambodia, however, JICA is willing to consider the continuation of support to the LTC,” it said.
Ky Tech said the foreign associations are right to be concerned about the training center’s future and said he would do everything he could to ensure the bar council gets the training center ready for its next term.
“The letter…pushes the bar council to have a meeting to continue the cooperation with donors,” he said.
“Any council member that refuses to attend the meeting means that they are trying to destroy the interests of the bar.”