Imperial arrogance

Senator Mitch McConnell’s article (Cambodia Daily, August 7) about the Khmer Rouge tribunal seems composed of equal parts ignorance and imperial arrogance.

McConnell denounces the National Assembly for insufficient debate of the Khmer Rouge trial draft law in July – apparently unaware of its substantive discussion over two days of plenary discussion in January, and the preceding examination by the Assembly’s Legislative Commission.

He quotes Sam Rainsy denouncing the law to establish the KR tribunal without mentioning that Sam Rainsy and his party voted for it.

And he asserts that “Hun Sen has repeatedly dismissed calls from the UN and human rights advocates that the trial meet international standards of justice” – something Hun Sen has not done even once, let alone repeatedly. In fact, it was Hun Sen and Prince Ranariddh who first got the UN involved in the trial process by asking (in June 1997) for assistance in order to conduct a trial that would meet international standards of justice.

I will not attempt to judge how much of McConnell’s apparent ignorance is real and how much of it is simply taking advantage of an uninformed US audience. But there is no mistaking the sincerity of his “white man’s burden” attitude.

This is evident from his very first sentence, with its gratuitous insult to the National Assembly and Senate as a “rubber-stamp parliament”.

The imperial arrogance continues with: “Incredibly, the [KR] tribunal relies upon Cambodia’s incorrigible and corrupt judicial system.” Leave aside that the Cambodian government seeks international participation in the tribunal precisely to counter some of the defects of the Cambodian judiciary. What is so “incredible” about Cambodians trying people accused of horrific crimes against Cambodians? Is it really a precondition of justice that the court administering it be located in the United States?

I – and most people I have spoken to about the matter – incline to the view that corruption in Cambodian, and other Third World, institutions such as the judiciary, could be reduced to First World levels as soon as the governments concerned are able to pay judges a salary that allows them to survive without other sources of income. McConnell doesn’t agree: the Cambodian judiciary is “incorrigible”, which means that it can’t be reformed – even if Cambodian judges were to be paid salaries like those of justices of the US Supreme Court, or US senators. Cambodian judges were simply born in the wrong country, and there’s no point trying to change that, because they won’t be granted visas (except at a price).

McConnell goes on to call for US government financial assistance to opposition political organizations in Cambodia. I am certain that McConnell is aware that in the United States, financial contributions from a foreign government – even from an individual foreign citizen – to a US political party are illegal. Charges that the Democratic Party received such illegal contributions from Chinese sources have stirred US politics for the last several years.

McConnell warns, “There cannot be two standards of international justice – one for Cambodia and one for the rest of the world.” Quite right: only superpower bullies have the privilege of that double standard.

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