Thursday, July 29, 2010

Cambodia's Troubled Tribunal

Cambodia’s war crimes court, the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, or ECCC, deserves credit for convicting Kaing Guek Eav, better known as “Duch,” for war crimes and sentencing him to 35 years in prison. But Duch was the legal equivalent of a “tomato can” in boxing — an unskilled opponent used to pad a win-loss record. His conviction was an easy knockout.

Now that that legal mismatch is over, the long delayed main event — the trial of the aging Khmer Rouge political leaders — Ieng Sary, Khieu Samphan, Nuon Chea and Ieng Thirith — can begin.

Unlike Duch, a functionary who admitted he was “responsible for the crimes committed” and expressed “deep regret and heartfelt sorrow,” the regime’s top leaders will mount aggressive defenses and maintain their innocence until the end.

None of the four defendants were hands-on killers like Duch — they simply issued orders from on high. Thus their cases will require the tribunal to take a much broader view of their legal mandate. Unlike Duch, these defendants were careful to distance themselves from the atrocities.

Their cases will rely heavily on the court’s reading of the conspiracy charge because while the accused were architects of Khmer Rouge policy and issued the orders, they did not carry them out.

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