A growing row over foreign defense counsel is threatening Cambodia's Khmer Rouge tribunal, as the International Bar Association (IBA) said yesterday it was forced to abandon key legal training amid a power struggle with Cambodian lawyers.
After weeks of planning, the IBA abruptly pulled its support for a program meant to familiarize Cambodian lawyers -- who are often under-trained and inexperienced -- with international law.
It said the move came in response to threats by the Cambodian Bar Association to boycott the program and take "measures" against any of its members who participate.
"The prohibition by the Cambodian Bar is part of a wider scheme of opposition designed to obstruct the operation of the tribunal," the IBA said in a statement.
"In consequence, the IBA has canceled the program," it added.
The program was to be offered by the IBA and the tribunal's Defense Office, which was established to protect the rights of the accused but has come under fire from Cambodian lawyers who say it violates domestic laws.
The cancelation is the latest development in an apparent attempt by Cambodian lawyers to wrest greater control of the tribunal from the UN and foreign counsel.
"We are being violated by foreigners," Cambodian Bar president Ky Tech told the English language Cambodia Daily on Wednesday.
The escalation in this turf war comes as foreign and Cambodian tribunal judges meet to hammer out the internal regulations that will give shape to one of the decade's most anticipated international trials.
With the fate of the training program -- essential for lawyers wishing to practice before the tribunal -- now in question, the adoption of those rules might not happen today, as expected.
As many as 10 former Khmer Rouge leaders could be put in the dock during the joint Cambodian-UN tribunal, legal experts say.
Co-prosecutors are expected to hand their first cases up to investigating judges by the end of the year, with the trial phase of the three-year tribunal set to start next year.
So far only two potential defendants have been arrested for crimes committed during the Khmer Rouge's brutal four-year rule in the late 1970s.
But one, military commander Ta Mok, died in July, raising fears that other elderly regime cadres would die before being brought to justice.
As many as two million people died of starvation and overwork or were executed between 1975 and 1979 as the communist Khmer Rouge drove Cambodia's entire population onto vast collective farms in their bid to create an agrarian utopia.