Monday, August 10, 2009

Follow up on Justice in Cambodia

Last week I blogged a story in GQ about the war crimes trials that recently got underway in Cambodia, thirty years after the Khmer Rouge regime ended. The GQ article goes into some of the reasons it took so long to bring the perpetrators to justice. In an article in Sunday's Boston Globe, Joshua Kurlantzick, a fellow for Southeast Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations, writes that

There is good reason to believe the tribunal will fail in its aims. Held 30 years after the fall of the regime, the trial focuses on only five leaders ... leaving thousands of former Khmer Rouge officials living undisturbed in Cambodian society. And though it may reveal important information about the country's past, virtually no one in Cambodia will have access to its findings. ... [T]he troubles faced by the Khmer Rouge tribunal offer a chastening example of why Nuremberg-style tribunals - despite their successes elsewhere - may be wrong for many of the developing countries that most need to find a way to grapple with their pasts.

Kurlantzick believes that for developing countries, it might be more effective to create "small-scale, village-level reconciliation programs, which work within the country's social structures rather than creating an expensive Western-style process." Such programs could "work quickly, before evidence is lost, memories fade, and the suspects grow too old to stand trial." He cites the example of Rwanda, which has a government-sponsored program called gacaca, "essentially a series of village-level community courts in which former victims can confront alleged petetrators of the 1994 genocide." The accused testify and then the community court may sentence them to punishment, typically "restitution on a local level." Kurlantzick admits that the gacaca system is not perfect. There have been cases of violent retribution against the guilty, but overall the system has helped Rwanda to move past its troubled history and build one of the strongest economies in Africa. Kurlantzick believes that such a locally-based system would be more effective in Cambodia than the Nuremberg-style tribunal now under way.

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