Shadow-Play Justice

UN eyes human rights probes in Indonesia, Cambodia

Have law, will travel.

That epigram could well be the calling card these days for the United Nations secretary-general.

Kofi Annan has become a global justice-slinger, a paladin trying to bring the long arm of the law to lands where great atrocities have taken place, such as in former Yugoslavia.

This week, he's in two Southeast Asian nations, tiny Cambodia and giant Indonesia. They face international pressure - best represented by Mr. Annan - to prosecute fellow countrymen held responsible for flagrant human rights violations.

Annan's travels reflect a trend in this post-cold-war age. Western investors and rich-nation donors can hinder a nation's economy if it doesn't play by international rules. Indonesia and Cambodia cannot afford to practice a local style of shadow-play justice against warriors linked to large massacres.

In effect, the rule of law and the global economy need each other.

In Cambodia, the UN is demanding a deciding role for foreigners on a tribunal set to judge the leading remnants of the Khmer Rouge. But Prime Minister Hun Sen - whose own past inside the Khmer Rouge remains murky - wants Cambodian judges to hold the gavel.

The UN chief is rightly holding firm in his demand, knowing the world wants an open and honest trial of the Khmer Rouge and its "killing fields" rule from 1975 to 1978.

In Indonesia, the shadow play of justice is now more open, thanks to a dramatic shift toward greater democracy. The 1998 fall of former strongman Suharto led to the election last year of a liberal Muslim leader, Abdurrahman Wahid, as president.

He has slowly, if erratically, diminished the military's historic role in government and the economy. But Indonesia went through a tense period this month when the security minister and former armed forces commander, Wiranto, refused to obey an order from the new president to resign.

The order came after a government human rights panel blamed Wiranto for the mayhem in East Timor last year when the territory sought independence.

Even that panel is largely a result of UN and American pressure. The US military was embarrassed when Indonesian troops - under Army commanders who were trained in the US - allegedly committed atrocities in East Timor.

And to further show the difficulty of bringing human rights justice to Indonesia, Wahid only suspended Wiranto. And he promises to pardon the general if he is convicted.

Such hesitancy reflects a concern that military cohesion is needed when parts of Indonesia are in rebellion.

In visiting Indonesia this week, Annan brings a message that the UN Security Council and others are watching to see if the new government can bring legal accountability to a military that in the past put the rule of guns above the rule of law.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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