Mu Sochua a leading member of the opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) was arrested on Tuesday along with five others after a demonstration to gain access to Phnom Penh’s Freedom Park turned violent in clashes between police and some of the protesters. Sochua was elected to the Cambodian parliament in 2013 and is a leading human rights and non-violence advocate in Cambodia. Despite their calls on the protesters to remain calm and non-violent, Sochua and the five others have been charged with insurrection and incitement and have been detained in Phnem Penh’s maximum security prison. If convicted, they could be sentenced to 30 years in prison. The US State Department, and others, including my home institution Mount Holyoke College have already called on the government for their release. Human Rights Watch called the government to investigate and prosecute those opposition supporters who committed violence, but is also called the insurrection charges “absurd” and yet another “pretext for threatening opposition leaders with prison.”
Lots happening on the international law front – A Spanish judge (not Garzon!) has indicted three American soldiers who fired upon a hotel in Iraq which resulted in the death of a Spanish journalist. (Those Spanish judges sure love their universal jurisdiction…) Also, the Cluster Munitions Treaty came into effect.
But perhaps the biggest international law story of the week was that of the conviction of Kaing Guek Eav or “Duch”
by the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia for the Prosecution of Crimes Committed During the Period of Democratic Kampuchea (aka Cambodia Tribunal
- It has lost the support of the (what seems to be increasingly corrupt) Cambodian government
- That the Cambodian members of the Court are more anxious to please the wishes of the government than carry out objective investigations
- That there have been allegations of corruptions and the fact that the Court is running at ‘a conspicuously slow pace’.
- That although the Court was predicted to cost $20 million (US) per year, “the court has already spent at least $70 million and convicted only one suspect.”
But he leaves, perhaps , the most scathing critique for the ‘cheerleaders’ of international justice:
The biggest problem facing the ECCC is living up to it’s own hype. Claims that such trials lead to healing, closure, truth and reconciliation are speculative at best. How does one measure “healing, closure and reconciliation”?
While most Cambodians would like to see the Khmer Rouge leaders punished, they’ve grown used to seeing common thieves and their government’s political opponents suffer far worse punishment than that meted out to Duch. Bou Meng, a survivor of the Tuol Sleng prison, described Duch’s sentence to reporters as “a slap in the face.”
The U.N. legal experts and their cheerleaders in the human rights industry have lost sight of a basic fact: No matter how procedurally perfect the ECCC is, if it outlives the people it was supposed to try, it cannot be judged a success.
This is quite simply the most interesting article on international criminal justice that I have read in a long time.
The other fascinating aspect of it is his condemnation of the fact that the prosecution has decided to add the charges of genocide to the list facing the accused. He does not pretend that what happened under the Khmer Rouge was in any way not brutal, but points to the fact that this has really only made the case for the prosecution harder. “Proving” genocide is one of the hardest possible things as it requires evidence of intent. It was something that caused great difficulty in prosecuting Milosevic (until he did everyone a favour and managed to die in jail). Again, as Maguire notes:
None of the four defendants were hands-on killers like Duch — they simply issued orders from on high. Thus their cases will require the tribunal to take a much broader view of their legal mandate. Unlike Duch, these defendants were careful to distance themselves from the atrocities.
I must admit that I was more optimistic about the Court until I read the article. Then again, to be honest, I hadn’t been paying much attention to it. I was aware that it’s a “hybrid” Court – both a national and international court, with staff from both, like the Special Court for Sierra Leone. The benefit of such Courts for some NGOs and advocates is that while they are still under the ‘universally accepted principles of international justice’ (ie: due process and the like) they also serve as a teaching tool for the rule of law in countries where it has effectively been broken down. (For the US the advantage is to show that ad hoc courts work just as well, or better, than the ICC – something that it has a clear policy interest in, for better or worse.)
However, given what Maguire is saying above, this clearly appears to not be the case. In fact, it sounds as if it may be playing a role in helping an increasingly undemocratic government in Cambodia.
This quarter I’m serving as a guest author on a series of roundtables published on University of Denver’s Human Rights and Human Welfare website. The first of these is online this week, a panel discussion of Joel Brinkley’s Foreign Affairs piece in this issue, “Cambodia’s Curse.” My opening paragraph:
“Joel Brinkley has written a heartbreaking piece in Foreign Affairs about Cambodian society thirty-five years after Pol Pot. We are presented with anecdote after anecdote about historical trauma, corruption, and poverty. It’s a depressing picture, and an important country case to have on the US’ foreign policy radar screen. But I find three problems with Brinkley’s treatment of Cambodia.”
Read what they are here. Check out the complete roundtable here.