Sunday,2007-05-27: The Use of Force, the Law, and the State

Posted on 29 May 2007. Filed under: *Editorial*, Week 509 |

The Mirror, Vol. 11, No. 509

During the past week, we mirrored a case where a higher ranking military person had a conflict with a traffic policeman – after the police had tried to stop the officer’s car because he had violated some traffic rules. Though this is just one isolated incident, similar conflicts seem to happen frequently. Earlier this month, we mirrored also a story that children of high ranking persons started a gunfight opposite the Spark Entertainment Center near the Chinese Embassy in Phnom Penh. There were repeatedly cases where young people acted with an attitude of Don’t-you-know-who-my-father-is? Some of them had been repeatedly admonished, their parents had promised to the authorities to give them proper guidance, but with no results – they continued to commit similar violent acts again – and there were cases reported of release without paying bail, and no normal punishment applied.

Such acts have a deeper meaning beyond the actual violation of the law. Combined with reports like the following – “The More Weapons Destroyed the More Illegal Use of Guns Exists Mostly by High Ranking Officials’ Bodyguards” – “Court Officials’ Corruption Causes More Impunity” – they point to a fundamental crisis of the state.

There is not much public debate in present Cambodia about the nature of the state – apart from the fact that it is to live in implementing the Constitution.

In general terms, one of the essential elements of a state, as this terms has developed over the centuries in many parts of the world, is that the state is the only organ which has a legitimate claim on the use of physical force, based on the law. Where different persons or groups of persons regularly claim to have the right to exercise physical force – like it happens in some parts of Afghanistan or of Somalia – the international community describes these situations as either under the rule of “war lords” or as “rogue states” – as areas where the normal way of life in a civilized society is not guaranteed.

The English philosopher Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) has developed this concept of the monopoly of the state to exercise force, with the following argumentation:

Natural passions of people may “carry us to partiality, pride, revenge, and the like.”- In order to have “justice, equity, modesty, mercy, and, in sum, doing to others as we would be done to,” it is necessary for a society to have the power to enfor ce the law and if also to punish by force, installed according to the law. That is what the institution of a state is for, and what it is.

But what future will a society have, when – instead of the legitimate exercise of controlling power by the state, a newspaper presents now their analysis: “The More Weapons Destroyed, the More Illegal Use of Guns Exists, Mostly by High Ranking Officials’ Bodyguards.”

In our neighboring country of Thailand there is a present a deep fear that the power of the state according to the law may be derailed. – Thailand is at present under military rule, after the last elections had brought an overwhelming victory for the Thai Rak Thai Party – and the accusation of violations of the electoral law. On 30 May now, the Constitutional Tribunal of Thailand will make its decisions about five political parties public, among them the Thai Rak Thai Party and the Democrat Party. According to the law, the Constitutional Council may order the dissolution of those parties which have committed electoral irregularities. While the top leadership of the two major parties finally declared that they will respect whatever decision will be announced, there were also moves by some sectors of the majority party to try to influence the Constitutional Tribunal – by a huge demonstration around the building where the Constitutional Council meets and other activities.

In a most surprising way, the King addressed the judges of the Supreme Administrative Court, transmitted live on television, where he appealed, on last Thursday, 24 May 2007:

“In the next few days, we will all be very busy. You must be well prepared and be ready to make some comments, not as judges but as private persons or as experts. This is in order to prevent the country from sinking like it almost did on previous occasions, to prevent someone from saying later that we sank because we did nothing, or did not try to to do anything. We almost sank and are close to sinking now. Therefore, you have the responsibility to prevent the country from sinking further or deteriorating, by imparting more knowledge to those people who are educated, and to the general public who may be uninformed so that they do not know which way the country should go… In performing your duty, be mindful of your safety and be straightforward in what you do. I believe you are all determined to work for the sake of the country. I wish you all the enjoyment of good health and courage to carry out your tasks.”

The deep concern of the Thai King relates to the fact that “the general public who may be uninformed” that nobody is above the law, whatever popular and powerful they may be. Therefore, the judges will need courage to uphold the law.

To uphold the law requires courage of the judges, as the the former government gave the impression to many that it is – in its popularity and in its power – above the law.

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