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Khmer Rouge convictions don't bring justice

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The Wall Street Journal has this article about the convictions in the UN-backed Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia of Khmer Rouge intellectual and political leaders Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan.

Nuon Chea, 88 years old, the Khmer Rouge's chief ideologue and former deputy to late leader Pol Pot, and 83-year-old Khieu Samphan, the former head of state, were sentenced to life imprisonment on Thursday after being found guilty of crimes against humanity--directing murder, political persecution and other inhumane acts related to the mass eviction of city-dwellers and executions of enemy soldiers.

The verdict, coming nearly three years after the trial began, marked the first convictions secured against top-tier regime officials by the United Nations-backed tribunal, long plagued by funding shortfalls and perceived political interference.
The article hails the convictions as justice for the victims of Khmer Rouge murder and pillage (crimes against humanity as the tribunal calls it) at long last, but convictions are not justice. A criminal conviction is merely a prerequisite to justice. It is the sentence that follows a conviction that determines if justice has been served.
The WSJ article goes on.

The Khmer Rouge--founded by a group of radical Marxists, many educated in France--seized power in April 1975 and sought to create an agricultural utopia. Its soldiers killed many educated citizens and forced the population to work in rural collectives, most of which failed.
The Khmer Rouge systematically murdered an entire class of people, forced the remaining into "rural collectives" (labor camps), silenced dissent by bloody force, and impoverished a nation.

Political problems with the United Nations tribunals aside, an 88 year old and an 83 year old were just handed life sentences. Since both have already exceeded their life expectancy we can assume these "life sentences" will not last more than a few years.  For instigating, ordering and overseeing the slaughter of 1.7 million people between 1975 and 1979, these men will serve a sentence completely unbefitting of the crime.

In fact, only one sentence could possibly claim to be justice for the victims in this instance, and that would be a sentence of death.

No international criminal body has executed a convicted genocidal dictator or subordinate since the International Military Tribunal for the Far East and International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg after World War II. But this has not ended the debate. With the creation of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda by the UN Security Council in 1994, one security council member voted "no". That member was Rwanda, and the reason being was the fact that no convicted war criminal would see a capital sentence. Rwanda took it upon itself to simultaneously carry out war crimes trials in its domestic court system and carried out 22 executions in 1998.

This is why after the capture of Saddam Hussein in 2003, rather than turn him over to the International Criminal Court, the Supreme Iraqi Criminal Tribunal was established. Hussein, and other Ba'ath party officials were tried, convicted and executed for the horrible crimes they committed from 1968-2003. While reasonable minds can differ on the U.S. invasion of Iraq, the victims and survivors of Saddam's reign of terror were given some semblance of justice with his and the others' executions.

While on the other end of the spectrum, UN-backed tribunals have been plagued with problems of light sentencing in the past, Drazan Erdinovic and most of the sentences stemming from the genocide in the former-Yugoslavia come to mind. Victims are not served by genocidal dictators and murderers serving just a few years in prison. Genocide goes undeterred, and while nothing can bring back the 1.7 million lives lost due to Khmer Rouge Communism, the international community could at least act like those lives mattered and pursue justice, even and especially when justice requires a capital sentence.

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