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Quality justice and integrity

I am deeply troubled by Neth Pheaktra’s analysis “What the Cambodian people have been waiting for is Case 002, not cases 003 and 004!” in the Khmer-language Phnom Penh Post on May 20, 2011. He attributes one quote to an unnamed victim saying that s/he would like to see Case 002 against the “four senior Khmer Rouge leaders fully tried first before moving on to scrutinising cases 003 and 004”, and goes on to defend the position of the National Co-Prosecutor Chea Leang and Prime Minister Hun Sen against cases 003 and 004, quoting the Prime Minister that he would rather see the Tribunal fail than allow for political upheaval.

In response to the analysis, I’d like to raise three points:

1. Division of labour. The 40-plus personnel in the Office of Co-Investigating Judges of the Extraordinary Chambers (ECCC or Tribunal) can proceed with their investigation of cases 003 and 004 without interfering in the progress of Case 002. These 40-plus personnel have no role or duties in the trial hearings of Case 002 beginning on June 27.  Currently, they are sitting idle, collecting salaries in the range of US$250,000 per month.  The numbering of the case files is sequential for purposes of management, but the work on these cases can be done concurrently, especially as they are at different stages in the ECCC process, without overlapping staff or venues.

2. The false dilemma of peace versus justice. Truth is a pre-condition of justice. Justice is an integral element of peace. There can be no genuine peace without justice; there can be no justice without truth. A fragile peace of temporary stability of the Pyongyang or Burmese ilk cannot last; it will only further imbed impunity, oppression and other social ills into iron-clad destructive mentality. A fragile peace or faux stability is a superficial façade over a boiling kettle of unresolved social injustices. Truth, justice and peace are mutually reinforcing of and not opposed to each other, as argued by Neth Pheaktra, Madam Chea Leang and Prime Minister Hun Sen.

3. Cambodians demand QUALITY justice, not a figure. We know there is no magical figure as to how many should be tried or indicted. We know it is not practical nor desirable to try everyone with a bloody hand for crimes committed during the period of April 17, 1975, to January 7, 1979. That would be in the hundreds if not thousands, and it would create social chaos and instability, working against the goals of reconciliation. That said, however, the current five is not enough and to push for another five is not unreasonable.  Here, to argue social instability is to employ a false pretext, which is the current position of the National Co-Prosecutor and of the government. In blocking further prosecutions, the Prime Minister is assuming the role of a prosecutor or co-investigating judge, an unacceptable overreach of his political position.  

Cambodians will not be satisfied with the current five indictees, especially in light of the US$200,000,000 already spent on this ECCC, for the deaths of 1,700,000 to 2,200,000 loved ones. And there’s a real fear that only Duch and one or two of the senior KR leaders in Case 002 will live through the whole trial. This is not an equation that is acceptable to Cambodians – trying only five, with the real possibility that of these five, only three or four will live through the full legal proceedings and be the scapegoats of the KR regime. It’s nonsensical math.

In sum, to prosecute or not to prosecute is a judicial decision, not to be decided by politics, if we are to adhere to international standards. International standards of QUALITY JUSTICE of INTEGRITY FOR ALL, including poor Cambodians, not just for the Cambodian elites and people of the developed world. International standards of the United Nations, agreed upon by the Cambodian government for this ECCC.

Theary C Seng,
Founding President CIVICUS: Center for Cambodian Civic Education

Send letters to: newsroom@phnompenhpost.com or PO Box 146, Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The Post reserves the right to edit letters to a shorter length. The views expressed above are solely the author’s and do not reflect any positions taken by The Phnom Penh Post.

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