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Thursday, September 20, 2007

Kurdish abuses; Uneven justice in Cambodia; France, America and Iran

Thomas Friedman makes a good point in his column "What's Missing in Baghdad" (Views, Sept. 10) about elements necessary for the democratization of Iraq. However, referring to the northern region as "Kurdistan" is highly contentious since it is not a province or territory of its own.

Secondly, commending Kurdish regional institutions so early in the Iraqi democratic process is unjust and dangerous, considering the atrocities by Kurdish militias against the Christian Assyrians and other minority groups.

Friedman praises the free market economy in the north and the political openness, but I would not say that consulting with the Kurds themselves about their political workings is such a fair and balanced approach to discovering how free and open they are. I would be more mindful of his own words, "when you hold elections without liberty, you end up with tyranny of the majority."

Friedman can advise the Kurds with these words the next time they intimidate innocent people going to vote while Kurdish human rights organizations turn a blind eye. It is important to remember that tyranny of the majority is no better than tyranny of the minority.

Charleston, South Carolina

Uneven justice in Cambodia
As Cambodians, we are delighted by the news of the arrest of the second-most senior Khmer Rouge leader, Nuon Chea ("Pol Pot's 'Brother No. 2' to face war crimes," Sept. 20). The arrest is another step toward justice for almost 2 million Cambodians who were killed or starved to death by the Khmer Rouge between 1975 and 1979.

However, many Cambodians believe that the aged and ailing Khmer Rouge leader will not live long enough to serve his prison sentence at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Court of Cambodia if he is convicted. Given the gravity of the crimes committed by the regime under his command, many people think that Nuon Chea does not deserve the luxury of the ECCC prison while chicken thieves and other minor criminals have to spend many years in harsh conditions in Cambodian prisons.

In a sense, he is lucky to be tried at a court with an international standard of justice, compared to the Khmer Rouge victims who were tortured and starved before they were summarily executed for stealing potatoes or rice to eat.

Another chapter of history will be opened if the other remaining suspects are also arrested soon, particularly "Brother Number Three," Ieng Sary, and his wife, the Khmer Rouge's social affairs and education minister, Ieng Thirith, who were pardoned by the government when they defected in 1996.

Moeun Chhean Nariddh, Phnom Penh

France, America and Iran
By insisting on tighter economic sanctions, America and France are shooting themselves in the foot, not just with Iran but with the banking community of the entire developing world. A vast number of Asian Central bankers have privately expressed horror at the unilateral nature of U.S. decisions and accuse America rather than Iran of having encouraged global terrorism.

The European Union's meek submission to the American blackmail of European banks, and Sarkozy's showboating have convinced Asian governments that they are better served investing their cash surpluses inwardly or in locations beyond the reach of the West. This will serve to jeopardize global economic stability by exacerbating the already existing imbalances in capital flows.

All Sarkozy will achieve by aligning himself with America's discredited policies is to assume Tony Blair's mantle as "Bush's poodle."

Hamid Varzi, Tehran

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UN's Legal Chief Dodges Questions of Cambodia and King, After An Hour on Lebanon

UNITED NATIONS, September 19 -- Questions about the UN's role in the Cambodian war crimes tribunal go unanswered, even by the UN's top legal official Nicolas Michel. In light of the controversy surrounding the UN having declined retired King Norodom Sihanouk's September 8 offer to meet and provide some testimony, Inner City Press on Wednesday asked Mr. Michel if it is the UN's position that he could be called to formally testify, and would have to obey such an order. Mr. Michel said, "that is an extremely sensitive topic" that "has created a number of difficult discussions. If I answer, the King would see it in an offensive way."

Perhaps caution and non-response is to be expected from lawyers. But Mr. Michel had just finished answering an hour of questions about the Lebanon tribunal being established in the Netherlands, questions about jurisdiction and timing, even as earlier in the day another member of Parliament was killed by a bomb in Beirut. The Lebanon tribunal, too, must be deemed an "extremely sensitive topic." What then explains the total non-response on Cambodia, other than the UN's sense of priorities?
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Cassie Phillips: Reporting from Cambodia

CNN features Duke Hart Fellow Cassie Phillips's work with children

By Iza Wojciechowska, Hart Leadership Program

Durham, NC -- Throughout this year, Cassie Phillips, Trinity ’07, will be able to share her experiences as a Hart Fellow with audiences around the world.

As one of six young participants in “Be the Change”— a CNN International project to showcase what its website calls “the power of social change through action”— Phillips will maintain a regular record of her fellowship in Battambang, Cambodia, where she works with orphaned and vulnerable children at a non-governmental organization called Homeland. She will keep a written and video blog on the “Be the Change” website for the entirety of her yearlong fellowship, and beginning this week, segments of her video blog will air regularly during CNN news shows in Asia, Europe, Africa and the Americas. The six participants’ videos will be rotated on a weekly basis.

This is the first time CNN has used blogs as a major component of any of its programs, and the first time CNN video and blogposts are being created by people not trained as journalists, said Chris Wheelock, producer of “Be the Change.”

Phillips and the five other volunteers were chosen to participate in the program based on referrals from NGOs and from recent publications that list exceptional young people around the world, Wheelock said.

“We wanted a diverse group of people in various parts of the world,” he said. “Every one of these people has a slightly different mission and very distinctive personality.”

“It’s exciting to be a part of something that I think is an improvement in the media: news about places and people that are largely ignored,” Phillips said. “I understand ‘being the change’ is dedicating yourself and your actions to achieving a goal. In my case, my goal is to go somewhere very unknown with an open mind and try to apply the skills I have to help in every way I can, while learning more about myself.”

Phillips’ Hart Fellowship assignment involves intensive volunteer work with Homeland, which provides various services for Cambodian street children and families, including caring for formerly sex-trafficked children, working with children at risk of coming into conflict with the law, and facilitating home-based care and group counseling sessions for people living with HIV/AIDS.

The Hart Fellows Program fosters leadership development by placing recent Duke graduates in organizations around the world each year to do research and fieldwork on pressing policy issues.

Maintaining a blog and filming her experiences adds a new dimension to Phillips’ work. She said she’s gone through a period of getting used to the camera and the effect it has on the people she works with.

“I’ve taped odds and ends of things that I find interesting, things I do on a daily basis, and some trips I’ve taken,” she said. “At work I tape more structured activities and programs. Since there’s no real structure [to “Be the Change”], I’m making it up and trying new things as I go.

“Knowing I share my experiences with a large public adds a different layer of responsibility and changes the dynamics of my fellowship,” Phillips said. “The blog makes me think more critically about my experiences and delve a little deeper into issues.”

Wheelock said CNN has already received very positive feedback about the program.

“We have the highest expectations,” he said.
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Cambodia's genocide tribunal

Until now, many Cambodians still clearly remember the pivotal role Indonesia played in ending their country's long civil war.

But on Wednesday, Cambodia unintentionally taught Indonesia it could make steps toward alleviating gross human rights violations. But are we willing to learn?

On Wednesday, police arrested Nuon Chea, 82, at his home in Pailin, in northwestern Cambodia, near the Thai border. Nuon Chea is believed to be the second most wanted person after Pol Pot for the killing of some 1.7 million people in Cambodia in the 1970s.

According to AFP, Nuon Chea, known also as "Brother Number Two", is the Khmer Rouge's most senior surviving leader to face the country's long-delayed genocide trials. "Brother Number One" Pol Pot died in 1998.

Vietnam invaded Cambodia in December 1978 and toppled the China-backed Khmer Rouge and made Hun Sen, a former Khmer Rouge cadre, Cambodia's new leader. Thirteen years later, thanks to the great mediation role of Indonesia and other ASEAN members, peace was returned to Cambodia.

Despite Prime Minister Hun Sen's initial reluctance, in 2003 the United Nations and Cambodia agreed to set up a genocide tribunal to put on trial perpetrators of the atrocities. In August this year, after three decades, Cambodians saw progress in their search for justice. The genocide court detained and charged Kaing Guek Eav, commonly known as Duch, for a crime against humanity.

Other past leaders, former foreign minister Ieng Sary, and former head of state Khieu Samphan, are also on the wanted list.

When the trial opens next year, perhaps millions of Cambodians will be disappointed with the process being hampered by health problems facing the aging defendants. But at least, justice may be delivered and those responsible for the "killing fields" will receive their punishment.

And let us look at ourselves.

Are we willing and ready to follow Hun Sen's footsteps? We helped Cambodia liberate itself from the civil war and become accepted as a member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). But are we going learn from Cambodia?

Indonesia has big problems in settling past crimes against humanity. In the aftermath of an abortive coup blamed on the now-defunct Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) in 1965, hundreds of thousands of people were killed.

Until now, the case remains in the dark, while efforts to trace the true history have been discouraged by nearly all of the country's presidents. Soeharto was not the only one -- even the current government is reluctant to unveil the truth.

There were many Muslim activists, students and anti-government leaders, who disappeared or were killed during Soeharto's iron-fist rule.

Many Indonesians became mad when the United Nations expressed its distrust in our government's ability to settle crimes against humanity. Particularly with regard to our former colony East Timor and restive provinces of Papua and Aceh.

Peace has returned to Aceh, but victims of human rights abuses from both warring parties are still fighting for justice. We can easily extend the list of atrocities.

We pride ourselves as a great nation. Cambodia is behind Indonesia in many respects -- at least that's what many believe. But with regard to one very fundamental thing -- Cambodian leaders have the political will and the guts to overcome their "killing fields" tragedy. And because of this, they leave our leaders behind.

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