Political Interference

The initial hearing of Duch, the first out of five “senior Khmer Rouge leaders” to appear as defendants in front of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), started this week. To some, this is an occasion to ask a question of political arithmetics: why five only? And why should this one go first? Peter Maguire has a couple of interesting thoughts in this respect:

“Unlike the Khmer Rouge political leaders who continue to deny knowledge of atrocities and even of Tuol Sleng Prison, Duch is now an evangelical Christian who has stoically accepted his fate, admitted his guilt, and taken responsibility for his actions. […] Some speculate that the Cambodian government is serving up this easily convicted thug as a sacrificial lamb in the hopes that the other over-80 defendants won’t live long enough to see the inside of the courtroom. If nothing else, we might finally learn whether or not there were “Chinese advisors” inside Tuol Sleng.” (from “Brother Duch in the dock”, International Herald Tribune, February 12 2009)

UN prosecutor Robert Petit has expressed the need to carry out further criminal investigations and possibly issue more indictments, but Chea Leang, his Cambodian counterpart in the “mixed” tribunal, said this could dangerously jeopardize the country’s political stability. Maguire adds: “If nothing else, the UN’s attempt to broaden this criminal inquiry will serve both as a test of the mixed tribunal’s legitimacy and its ability to function as a court”.

But the test is also on how much political “political justice” should or should not be. As aptly put for instance by this blogger, who quotes Maguire’s piece, Chea Leang’s (or, perhaps more exactly, Cambodian prime minister Hun Sen‘s) reluctance to massive international justice can be interpreted as a case for “political interference” in the tribunal (negative connotation for “political” here). However, Maguire seems to be using the word “political” in a rather different (slightly positive) sense when he claims, before quoting political theorist Otto Kirchheimer, that “what remains to be seen is whether or not the Cambodian prime minister has the political will to try the Khmer Rouge political leaders”.

So the question remains. Is a political interference a threat to justice? Or is justice as such, at least in part, a political interference?


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