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Farewell to a brave judge

Totday, Cambodia will suffer a great loss with the departure of International Reserve Co-Investigating Judge Laurent Kasper-Ansermet.

It is a loss with significant implicat-ions, and not only for the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia and for cases 003 and 004.

The departure of Kasper-Ansermet has far-reaching consequences for Cambodia’s larger, post-genocide society and our struggle to embed justice and combat impunity.

We are in shock over the cold-blooded murder of environment-alist Chut Wutty, but we should not be surprised.

We tend to think of coarse impun-ity in an ethereal way because of its prevalence in this society.

That means we speak about it, and react to it, in a limiting and narrowing manner based on our compartmentalising it into our respective fields of work – be it in rule of law, environmental protection, human rights or politics.

As we compartmentalise impunity, we also stratify it among the local authority, the military and the national leadership.

There also exists an unspoken stratification between the domestic and international spheres.

The international community is considered above the fray, despite it being a main player in shaping the news and the agenda, and in funding NGOs, the government, the ECCC and democracy. 

But, as we all know, impunity would not be the spreading cancer it is if the international community did not enable it with its billions and its deafening silence in the face of sustained, outrageous acts of injustice.

So there is a very short, straight line between what happened to Chut Wutty, Chea Vichea and other victims of military violence in recent days and what is happening at the ECCC.
And that short connecting line is impunity.

If Meas Muth, Sou Met, Im Chaem, Ta Tith and Ta An can get away with the murder of hundreds of thousands of Cambodians, what’s the big deal with doing away with one union leader? Or one activist in the forest?

And what is impunity but the persistent, habitual negation of justice, the licence to do harm, the freedom from punishment, the exclusion from responsibility, the exemption from accountability, the arrogance and the assurance that one can get away with murder?

Impunity is the societal norm in Cambodia.  And this norm, empowered by countless billions of dollars from the international community, is encouraged by the current leadership and suffered by the common people.

What are we to do?
Well, we –  both Cambodians and the international community – can begin by supporting and encourag-ing more individuals like Laurent Kasper-Ansermet.
What are we are doing when we support him?

We are saying we stand for decency, honour, character and justice – the virtues and elements missing in this society, and the real weapons against impunity (not all the billions of yen, euros, dollars and yuan).

To the contrary, in the words of C. S. Lewis: “In a sort of ghastly simplicity, we remove the organ and demand the function.

“We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise.

“We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings to be fruitful.”

What are we to do?
We need to be reminded that just-ice is neither impartial nor neutral.
Justice sides with the innocent;

it gives preferential treatment to the poor and the oppressed, the widows and the orphans, the weak and the vulnerable.

As a Jewish proverb puts it: “It is not good to be partial to the wicked, and so deprive the innocent of justice.”
What are we to do?

We can all practise what the polit-ical theorist Hannah Arendt called “an enlarged way of thinking”.

Or what Yale theologian Miroslav Volf  calls “double vision”, when we “enlarge our thinking by letting the voices and perspectives of others, especially those with whom we may be in conflict, resonate within ourselves, by allowing them to help us see them, as well as ourselves, from their perspectives.

”Nothing can guarantee in advance that the perspectives will ultimately merge and agreement be reached.  We may find that we must reject the perspective of the other.

”Yet we should seek to see things from their perspective, in the hope that competing justices may become converging justices and eventually issue in agreement.”
What are we to do?

We must understand that impunity is power gone awry.  We must redeem power in the tradition of Martin Luther King Jr, who said:  “Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice. Justice at its best is love correcting everything that stands against love.”

Laurent Kasper-Ansermet, you are truly a rare saving grace of the whole  “international community” in Cambodia and correctly bear the title “Honourable”.

Thank you for your efforts and work here. Your term was brief, but more meaningful than another’s full-term stay, and you leave a legacy of character and decency that we greatly need and desire.

Theary Seng is the founding president of CIVICUS, the Centre for Cambodian Civic Education, and the Association of Khmer Rouge Victims in Cambodia.



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