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Registration Fee Remains Highest Hurdle to Tribunal

When Cambodian and international judges left the negotiating table last week, they cited the participation of foreign lawyers as one reason a trial of former Khmer Rouge leaders cannot move forward, but excessive fees for foreign lawyer participation would take credibility from the tribunal, rights workers told VOA Saturday.

The question of foreign lawyer participation has become the most public stumbling block in Khmer Rouge tribunal talks.

The committee established to settle internal rules said in a statement Friday they could not reach agreement on how foreign lawyers would participate—a snag not in the internal rules themselves, but a snag nonetheless.

The Cambodian Bar Association has said it wants foreign lawyers to pay a $500 registration fee, and, if they are given a case, to pay $2,000 plus $200 per month, for a total of $4,900 per year.

Rights groups told VOA Saturday this could take choices away from defendants, which would water down a tribunal by giving defendants less choice in who would defend them.

"The fees that the international lawyers must pay has to be much lower in order for the victims to be able to afford lawyers that have the international standard," Isha Mussa, an Adhoc legal adviser on the tribunal, told VOA.

The tribunal's internal rules do not have a specific clause requiring foreign lawyers to pay registration fees, but the bar has demanded that foreign lawyers must meet their approval. Foreign jurists have not agreed on this.

Opposition lawmaker Son Chhay told VOA the high fees set by the bar indicate that the Cambodian side was trying to delay the tribunal process.

The unusual demands from the bar association were inappropriate, Son Chhay said, and show "the lack of a clear position and responsibility from the Cambodian side" to bring the former Khmer Rouge leaders to justice.

Cambodian Bar Association President Ky Tech declined to comment Saturday, but told the Cambodian Daily that international judges had raised their concerns over foreign lawyers "groundlessly" in talks last week. Cambodian and international judges and prosecutors, collectively called jurists, have been struggling to reach full agreement on the internal rules, and a statement issued Friday by the rules committee fell short of proclaiming success. Observers say the last chance for a tribunal of Khmer Rouge leaders is fast approaching, as the tribunal is in danger of exceeding a three-year time limit.

The committee "resolved all remaining disagreement, although some fine tuning remains," the statement said without elaborating.

The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, the official name of the tribunal, will have a representative speak with the Bar Association, ECCC spokesman Reach Sambath said.