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Chhouk Rin's acquittal

Chhouk Rin's acquittal

Dear Editor,

Discerning readers of this newspaper will understand why I say that I do not always agree with what Bora Touch writes in these pages.

Notwithstanding this reservation, however, I must congratulate Bora Touch on his recent comment piece, "Why Chhouk Rin's acquittal is illegal" (Post , Aug 4). Touch's legal analysis of amnesty and pardon issues for Khmer Rouge leaders is lucid, penetrating and convincing. He has got it exactly right on this matter.

The amnesty granted to Chhouk Rin by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court prior to the conclusion of his trial was a miscarriage of justice. In taking this action, the court incorrectly interpreted the Law on the Outlawing of the Khmer Rouge, and also violated Cambodia's Constitution.

This event perfectly illustrates why most observers inside and outside Cambodia insist that Cambodia's court system is still too weak to mount an effective prosecution of Khmer Rouge leaders for war crimes, genocide and other crimes against humanity, and why a Khmer Rouge tribunal must have strong United Nations participation if it is to offer any hope of rendering impartial justice in such politically-charged cases.

Twenty-five years ago, the Khmer Rouge utterly destroyed Cambodia's legal system. They crushed Cambodia's judicial institutions and exterminated Cambodia's professional lawyers and jurists.

As a direct result of the Khmer Rouge destruction of Cambodia's legal system, Co-Prime Ministers Norodom Ranariddh and Hun Sen wrote to United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan on June 21, 1997, saying "Cambodia does not have the resources or expertise to conduct" a tribunal for those persons responsible for genocide and crimes against humanity from 1975 to 1979. That was true when Norodom Ranariddh and Hun Sen wrote it in 1997, and it is still true today.

It would be the ultimate irony - indeed, it would be a farce - if the legal system that the Khmer Rouge destroyed, and which has still not fully recovered from that destruction, were today to be used to protect the very Khmer Rouge leaders who destroyed it one quarter century ago.

That is why the National Assembly and the Senate must pass the draft law on the Khmer Rouge tribunal with the provision for an independent international prosecutor intact, and give this law to Prime Minister Hun Sen with instructions to present it to the United Nations next month in New York.

More than anything else the National Assembly can do, such a noble act would demonstrate to the entire world that Cambodia once again has become a proud, confident and sovereign nation, ready to squarely confront its tragic history and pave the way for true national reconciliation. - Craig Etcheson, Phnom Penh

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