[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/07/16/art.sudan.omar.jpg caption="The International Criminal Court filed genocide charges against the Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, Monday."]
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There are always arguments to be made against war crimes tribunals.
Cambodia: too little, too late? The Cambodian people have waited 30 years for the leaders of the Khmer Rouge, which starved and slaughtered nearly two million men, women and children, to be brought to justice. A hybrid international/Cambodian tribunal, the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), which I visited last December, is holding five geriatric Khmer Rouge leaders now, awaiting a trial that has been in the works since it was authorized a decade ago. Speak to any Cambodian and you’ll get the same answer: “They killed my parents.” “My sister.” “Right before my eyes.” “This is the tree they swung children against until they were dead.” It is heartbreaking stuff. Let’s move this tribunal along, can’t we?
The ECCC is moving slowly in part because it’s breaking new legal ground by giving a significant role to victims, allowing them to be present as parties to the action, allowing them to ask questions of the perpetrators directly or through attorneys, and to seek compensation. It is also in desperate need of funding. Japan and many European countries have donated millions; the United States, which contributed to the rise of the anti-American Khmer Rouge by its bombing of Cambodia in the early 1970’s, nothing.
Darfur: too much, too soon? The sitting president of Sudan, Omar al-Bashir, faces an arrest for genocide and war crimes in connection with the genocide currently under way in Darfur. Already China and others have criticized the move as having the potential to cause further unrest. When a quarter of a million people have already been killed and over two million displaced, when rape of women and girls is widespread, not acting for fear of causing “unrest” is a sick joke.
After the horrors of the Holocaust became known throughout the world, the rallying cry of “Never again!” has been repeated often. Unfortunately, we have not lived up to it. Genocide did happen again, in Cambodia, and the world knew and did nothing. Again, in Iraq, again, in Bosnia, again, in Rwanda.
Perpetrators of genocide can’t be brought to justice too quickly. Every victim deserves to see the world community join together to stand with them in support of war crimes tribunals. They are in their infancy, and imperfect. But they beat the alternatives, brutality, war, and unredressed injustice.
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