Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Killing Fields Justice

Nov 22, 2007
Justice over killing fields
A UNITED Nations-supported tribunal has at last begun to bring former Khmer Rouge leaders to book - nearly 30 years after the killing fields of Cambodia took more than a million lives. Justice delayed may not be quite justice totally denied after all. Those who suffered and the relatives of those who perished have waited long enough. A few of the perpetrators, including the monstrous Pol Pot and 'the Butcher' Ta Mok, died without having to face their accusers. Khieu Samphan, Democratic Kampuchea's president during the genocide and mass starvation, is an infirm 76-year-old, roused this week from a hospital bed to face charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Among four others in custody and facing similar charges is Kaing Guek Eav, alias Duch. His meekness in his court appearance this week belied the sadism with which he is accused of having 16,000 people tortured and executed while in charge of the Tuol Sleng charnel house.
If found guilty in trials next year, they deserve the full weight of justice. Even before the process has really begun, they have tried pleading ignorance, shifting blame to now dead comrades, or justifying the unjustifiable. Obviously, the intervening decades between crime and apprehension have brought them no closer to remorse. Neither have repeated judicial postponements offered their victims any sense of closure. Lower-ranking accomplices also have to be brought to account. Even if the tribunal has no mandate to try them, the precedent it sets will show Cambodian courts the way. Contrary to some speculation, the delays have added to the need for collective catharsis, not diminished it. The trials may yet set off a long-repressed release. Without facing up to the truth of those dark days, Cambodians will find genuine national reconciliation difficult.

It is also imperative not only that justice be done, but that it be seen to be done. The proceedings will benefit from live media coverage as well as international standards of openness and jurisprudence, owing to the UN involvement. It is equally important that those who are committing such crimes now in wars declared and undeclared, or will in the future, need to be aware of the certainty of justice. It may be coincidental that the tribunal began work in earnest in a week that Asean, which has Cambodia as a member, signed a Charter prescribing rule of law and human rights among principles of domestic conduct of states. This is fortuitous, considering what could happen in Myanmar if the governance and human rights crisis there should get any worse.

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