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ASEAN ANALYSIS  16 September 2010

Justice on the march in Asean

By David Swartzentruber
AseanAffairs   16 September 2010

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In unrelated occurrences today, legal authorities in the Philippines and Cambodia took steps to bring to justice persons charged with crimes in a recent and long-standing case.

The recent case was in the Philippines where the justice secretary announced she will seek criminal and administrative charges against at least 10 officials, police and journalists following on the killing of eight Hong Kong tourists held hostage on a Manila tourist bus in August.

Justice secretary Leila de Lima did not identify those to be charged or state the charges but said “sanctions” would be sought against the individuals in the inept response to free the hostages.

Immediately after the incident, some speculated that the hostages were killed by aberrant police gunfire but interviews with surviving passengers indicated the hostage-taker, who is also dead, had killed them.

The justice secretary’s investigating panel will send the recommendations to President Aquino and it will fall on his shoulders to act on the recommendations.

Some distance from the Philippines, the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia announced the indictments of four senior Khmer Rouge leaders on charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity during the Khmer Rouge period in the late 1970s. An estimated 1.7 million Cambodians, 20 percent of the country’s population at the time, died through starvation, disease, exhaustion from overwork or execution.

The tribunal judges issued the indictment three days before a September 19 deadline to hand down the indictments in this second prosecution of surviving members of the Khmer Rouge. The first trial convicted the prison chief Duch.

Those indicted were: former Brother No. 2 Nuon Chea, head of state Khieu Samphan, foreign minister Ieng Sary and his wife, social action minster Khieu Thirith. The quartet have been in custody since 2007.

The legal basis for the indictments is the 1956 Cambodian penal code, which was in place during the Khmer Rouge’s 1975-1979 rule. The episode is one of the 20th century’s great tragedies. Those accused have disputed the charges and have refused to cooperate with investigators. UN officials indicate the trial will start by mid-2011.

Developing countries such as the Philippines and Cambodia, often lack the will power to enforce laws in the same manner as western nations with a longer legal tradition, however, in these instances, external pressures seemed to have forced their hand.

In the Philippines, the loudest outrage over the mishandled rescue attempt came from Hong Kong and it was widely publicized. The United Nations prodded the Cambodian government to take legal action against the ageing Khmer Rouge defendants to ensure that the tragic events could be put to rest for those Cambodians who lost family members during the rule of the Khmer Rouge.

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