Friday, March 20, 2009

Justice in Other Places

The Accused by Keith Gessen & Cambodia's Wandering Dead by Ben Ehrenreich

These are two excellent articles which depict the justice system at work (or not, as the case may be) in two different countries.

Gessen's article in the New Yorker is a depiction of the trial of the men accused of organizing and assisting in the murder of journalist Anna Politskovskaya in 2006. As the article progresses, he paints a dim view of the prosecution, and the Russian judicial system as a whole. The trial quickly becomes a showcase of prosecutorial error, expertly exploited by the defense.

Most interesting about the Russian system is that there is also a lawyer present representing the rights of the victims - in this case Politskovskaya's son, who appears to be the only person involved in the whole proceeding expecting a guilty conviction. Gessen's writing is detailed, and explains the intricacies of the Russian system while still providing the narrative drive of a good televised legal drama.

Ehrenreich's article in Harper's is concerned with the trial of five elderly Khmer Rouge leaders by the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, a strange hybrid court, featuring Khmer jurists and lawyers, but with Western counterparts.

His article provides an excellent accounting of the 20th Century history of Cambodia, not shying away in the least from issues of American complicity and guilt. It also does a great job of describing the lack of relevance of this trial for most Khmer people (approximately 29% of whom did not even know it was taking place), and the difference in Buddhist and Khmer comprehension of justice compared to that of the Western world.

These two articles compliment each other nicely when read on the same day.

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