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Justice In the News: 11-21-2011

2011 November 21

Khmer Rouge Trial Opens in Cambodia

The trial of three of the Khmer Rouge’s top officials, accused of responsibility for murders and other atrocities in Cambodia’s killing fields, finally opened this past Monday. As Sopheng Cheang reports for the Associated Press, the charges to be adjudicated by the U.N.-backed tribunal include “crimes against humanity, genocide, religious persecution, homicide and torture stemming from their 1975-79 reign of terror”: 

An estimated 1.7 million people died of execution, starvation, exhaustion or lack of medical care as a result of the Khmer Rouge’s radical policies, which essentially turned all of Cambodia into a forced labor camp as the movement attempted to create a pure agrarian socialist society. Intellectuals, entrepreneurs and anyone considered a threat were imprisoned, tortured and often executed.

On trial are Nuon Chea, the Khmer Rouge’s No. 2 leader; Khieu Samphan, an ex-head of state; and Ieng Sary, the former foreign minister. All are in their 80s, and there has been great concern that they be brought to trial as soon as possible. Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot died in 1998. The tribunal’s only prior case resulted in a 35-year prison term for Kaing Guek Eav, after he confessed to crimes against humanity and other offenses. The current defendants maintain their innocence. 

Brazil to Examine Torture and Other Crimes, but
Amnesty Law Will Prevent Punishment of Perpetrators

As a recent article in The Economist points out, Brazil’s current President and her two predecessors were all persecuted during the country’s military dictatorship of 1964-1985. Dilma Rousseff was tortured, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva was jailed, and Fernando Henrique Cardoso was exiled.
            On November 23rd President Rousseff is expected to sign legislation creating a new truth commission to look into the widespread crimes of the Generals, but an existing amnesty law will make it impossible for the commission to do more than investigate the murders, tortures and “disappearances,” and publicize its findings. It will not be able to impose punishment. The article quotes Pedro Taques, a Senator, as saying “there can be no justice when no one is held responsible.” However Matias Spektor of the research institute Fundação Getulio Vargas said that the torturers and murderers “will still die in bed, but this way, at least they’ll be known for who they are.” (Photo above is President Roussef’s 1970 police mug shot.)

U.S. Supreme Court to Consider Whether Corporations
Can be Prosecuted for Human Rights Abuses

According to a late October Bloomberg piece, the Supreme Court has agreed to consider “whether corporations can be sued under federal laws that protect people in other countries from human rights abuses.” The case involves units of Royal Dutch Shell which are accused of complicity in the torture and execution of Nigerians in the Ogoni region in the early ‘90s, including the well-known playwright Ken Saro-Wiwa.
            A federal appeals court had ruled that companies can’t be sued under the Alien Tort Statute; the appellants (Shell’s victims) argue that that ruling mistakenly created “a blanket immunity for corporations engaged or complicit in universally condemned human rights violations.”
            According to Bloomberg, “most federal appeals courts to consider the issue have said that companies can be sued under the 1789 Alien Tort Statute, just like individuals.” However, a divided three-judge panel of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York disagreed in this case. The journal predicts a decision in the case by next June.

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