Justice in the Midst of Conflicts – Sunday, 24.1.2010
The Mirror, Vol. 14, No. 648
The report on the increasing number of rapes, especially also of young girls less then 10 year old, in some cases ending with the killing of the victim, carried a terrifying comment: “Law enforcement by the relevant authorities, especially the courts, remained limited, as giving impunity to perpetrators continued,” continuing: “The number of cases brought to be heard at the courts was not so high, simply because of out of court arrangements.” Money is used instead of justice.
In another context, the Ratanakiri authorities are reported to have seized a truck with illegally logged wood after a Cambodian NGO and local citizens informed the authorities – but this is worse: Citizens who tried to report and to prevent forestry crimes were threatened by armed personnel, and the authorities do not dare to disclose the names of the powerful wood traders who hire citizens to commit these crimes. Power is used instead of justice.
In view of these and many other, specifically identified cases, there is not much value in discussing, in the abstract, whether Cambodia is a country to be described as under a state of law – because the Constitution says so – or not; the call to strengthen and to ensure effective law enforcement is also not very useful, unless it is accompanied by analyzing why law enforcement is so weak, and therefore: how this might change.
When I am traveling in Phnom Penh – that is normally on the back seat of a motorcycle-taxi – and I question the drivers why they breaks traffic rules, there is almost always a similar answer, with references that “everybody does it, especially the big cars: some without license plates, speeding on the middle of the road or on the wrong side, driving on, even if the traffic light is red, etc. etc.” If the law is not seen to be enforced equally on all, irrespective of money or power, it is very difficult to see how a state of law can be achieved. It can be achieved only when the very same authorities enforcing it are also following the law themselves.
Scanning regularly through news media from other countries, there is one item which is mentioned more and more: How do the Cambodian authorities consider the role of law in their relations with the neighboring country of Thailand? The armed clash yesterday at the border invited again regional concerns. And one concern discussed in other ASEAN countries, which have a tradition of not interfering into internal affairs of other members, is the fact that this seems to be happening now with the appointment of Mr. Thaksin Shinawatra, convicted for corruption but fugitive from Thailand, with an Interpol warrant, as an official adviser to the Cambodian government – disregarding the legal system of Thailand, and declaring a verdict for substantial financial corruption to be political. And by doing so importing – in spite of denials that this is not the intention – the political tensions of Thailand into Cambodia.
Several news items followed each other:
- 14 January 2010: International media reported that Mr. Thaksin Shinawatra will visit Cambodia again, even “Cambodia’s Foreign Ministry has confirmed that Mr. Thaksin will visit Cambodia later this month.”
- 15 January 2010: Mr. Noppadon Pattama, a legal adviser to Mr. Thaksin, said the plan for a visit had been canceled, but Mr. Thaksin would instead visit another country in Asia.
- 17 January 2010: The Puea Thai Party chairperson Mr. Chavalit Yongchaiyuth meets Mr. Thaksin in Brunei, it is said that Mr. Thaksin would return to Cambodia late in January, staying several days.
- 19 January 2010: Mr. Thaksin canceled his visit to Cambodia – according to a Khmer newspaper.
- 21 January 2010: Mr. Thaksin arrived in Cambodia for a brief visit – no press conference, no lecture as economic advisor – only a meeting with Prime Minister Hun Sen is reported.
- 22 January 2010: Mr. Thaksin demanded to close the legal case to expropriate his property.
- 25 January 2010: Mr. Thaksin is reported to have declared already on 18 January 2010 he may set up a government in exile depending on political developments.
Of course the main stage for all this is in Thailand themselves, where extremely difficult problems are being faced: a mix of politics and the law, and the question is still open what will be the outcome of the conflicting dynamics between the two.
After Mr. Thaksin was ousted by a bloodless military coup in 2006, his in-country assets were frozen; the Thai supreme court is scheduled to decide on 26 February 2010, whether these US$2.3 billion – 2,300,000,000 US dollar! – were gained by the misuse of power and corruption as prime minister and will go to the state, or whether they were gained from his salary as a police officer and later businessman and will be returned to him. In addition, Mr. Thaksin said that he still has about US$100 million available abroad.
The attorney-general of Thailand, Mr. Julasing Wasantasing, shared the dilemma and his approach in an interview yesterday, Saturday, in The Nation, where he said that it is increasingly difficult for Thailand’s justice system to function, as there are two powerful pressure groups – the Yellow Shirts and the Red Shirts – trying to enforce their will: “I have been told I have to listen to the people. But when the people are divided into two camps, which side should I listen to?” When the course of the law is not followed, but instead the actions of the police or of prosecutors and judges are defined not by the law, he said: “We should stop and start anew. If every case is influenced by the yellow or red colors, Thailand’s problem is never going to end.”
The attorney-general has also been criticized, from both camps, when they were not happy with decisions based on the law, and he expressed his concern that “legal cases here are being judged by the public not on their legal merit, but on perceived political significance.” He summed up his own position in these conflicts by quoting John Quincy Adams, a US lawyer, diplomat, and politician, and finally the 6th president of the USA from 1825 to 1829. This was at a time when the USA were still a weak country – a “developing country” as we might say today.
“I can never join with my voice in the toast which I see in the papers attributed to one of our gallant naval heroes. I cannot ask of heaven success, even for my country, in a cause where our country might be in the wrong: ‘Let justice be done even if heaven should fall.’ My toast would be, may our country always be successful, but whether successful or otherwise, always right.”
If this position would be taken also in view of the tensions between Cambodia and Thailand – not success for oneself is the goal, but justice even if it is for the other side – what a good future could be developed soon together!
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