Thursday, May 18, 2006

Homo Sapiens/ Trying the masterminds of Cambodia genocide

BY DAISUKE YAMAMOTO, THE ASAHI SHIMBUN

While visiting Phnom Penh in the fall of 2000, Motoo Noguchi, a public prosecutor, took in two grisly sights that have become part of the usual tourist circuit for visitors to the Cambodian capital.

He visited the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, a former high school that served as a prison during the murderous Khmer Rouge regime of the 1970s. More than 12,000 people were tortured and interrogated there before being taken to the city's outskirts to be executed at Choeung Ek, one of the country's many "killing fields." There Noguchi saw thousands of human skulls displayed in a glass memorial stupa for the victims.

The experience left the 45-year-old prosecutor shaken. "In spite of these monstrous crimes, no one has ever been charged," he recalls thinking at the time. "It is abnormal."

Now, Noguchi has a chance to help remedy that injustice by serving as a judge on the Khmer Rouge Tribunal, due to start early next year.

It is estimated that 1.7 million people, or about one in every five Cambodians, were executed or died from overwork or starvation between 1975 and 1979.

None of those responsible have been tried for their crimes. The Khmer Rouge's leader, Pol Pot, died, apparently of natural causes, in 1998. Other top officials of Khmer Rouge live freely in Cambodia.

Now, after more than a decade negotiating, the United Nations and the Cambodian government have hammered out a deal to try surviving Khmer Rouge leaders.

Under the complicated agreement, there will be a lower court and higher court with a total of 30 judges, prosecutors and other judicial officials--17 from Cambodia and 13 from other countries.

Noguchi will serve as one of the three international judges in the higher court.

He is only the second Japanese to serve as a judge in an international criminal tribunal. The first was Chikako Taya, who served on the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia.

In the 1990s, Noguchi worked for the Fukushima District Public Prosecutors Office and developed a reputation as a tough prosecutor with a strong sense of justice. He prosecuted one of the country's most serious kidnapping cases in which three people were ransomed and two of them were killed.

He went on to work at the Asian Development Bank's headquarters in Manila for four years from 2000, becoming familiar with international justice.

He now works as a teacher at the United Nations Asia and Far East Institute for the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders in Fuchu, western Tokyo.

In 2004, the Japanese Justice Ministry offered him the Khmer Rouge Tribunal job.

He didn't hesitate. "I want to contribute to the realization of justice in Cambodia," he said.

"Japan has supported Cambodian reconstruction efforts. Therefore, it is natural for Japan to make contributions of personnel." (IHT/Asahi: May 11, 2006)

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