Relationship Between Justice and Genocide Prevention
PHOTO: At a GYC Human Rights Delegation visit to the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia for the Prosecution of Crimes Committed during the Period of Democratic Kampuchea
In our most recent newsletter, we linked to Kuong Ly’s beautiful Op-Ed in the NY Times concerning the short sentence meted out to one of the perpetrators of the Cambodian Genocide and the sense of injustice felt by survivors of the genocide when this was announced.
During this month of Genocide Prevention, April 2011, I asked Kuong (GYC Rwanda 2007 Alumnus) if he would be willing to start a little discussion thread by posting something more about the relationship between that particular case of Duch and Genocide Prevention. This is what Kuong wrote:
I wrote this op-ed because I think international law is complex and at times unjust if you compare it to domestic legal systems around the world. Not that the US is a great example, but first degree murder (depending on the state you are in) could mean the death penalty whereas in international law, Duch was found guilty of torture and killing more than 12,000 people, and got a mere 19 year sentence because his rights were protected as part of due process, when he violated and took the life of so many people. When you break it down and compare it, the fact that he may one day walk free for committing such heinous crimes doesn’t make sense.
The sad truth about international criminal law is that we never get to go after the biggest culprits like Pol Pot, Hitler, etc. They often are not brought to trial so it’s their subordinates that face trial. The international community needs to send a profound message with harsher sentences that prevents people from killing and promoting individual responsibility that acts of genocide, crimes committed against humanity will be punished harshly. They will be brought to trial. But in the case of Duch, the message could be read that you can commit the most heinous crimes and walk free one day after serving in jail.
For survivors, the pain never goes away and no sentence will bring their love ones back, but what people need is closure that what happened to them, will not happen to others and that their experience serves as an example. When you have lenient sentences, that may not be the message sent to survivors, their families, or the international community.