Luke Hunt

Luke Hunt


Matt Powers (Facebook):
Where does Burma fit into a wider U.S. strategy in Southeast Asia?

To be honest, and polite, I think this can only be described as a work in progress as far as U.S. strategy in Southeast Asia is concerned. Burma remains an isolated dictatorship which has often – perhaps unfairly – been compared with North Korea. Washington wants to deal with Burma through ASEAN which I think would be preferable if Naypyidaw continues to reform. Otherwise, Burma will be seen as an emerging satellite of China and a cantankerous neighbor of Thailand, which is a U.S. ally. As such, it would rate little more than an irritable threat.

Sandeep Chandrasekharan  (Facebook):
Why are there only three defendants in a case involving the murder and disappearance of millions of people executed by the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia? How will this case affect the legitimacy & reputation of ICJ?

Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.

Putting every person deemed responsible for atrocities committed during Cambodia’s long running wars is logistically impossible. Many also fear prosecution of lower ranking cadre would simply open old wounds. However, what happened in Cambodia under Pol Pot was extraordinary by historical standards and a war crimes trial covering this period, 1975 to 1979, had been mooted for years. It wasn’t possible until the civil war ended in 1998, when negotiations began. As a starting point, it was decided to only prosecute “those most responsible,” and this was defined as Khmer Rouge leaders who were members of the Standing Committee. It was the Standing Committee, essentially an inner cabinet, which wrote and deployed government policy.  Of the original seven-member committee, only three survive:  Nuon Chea, Khieu Samphan and Ieng Sary, and they are currently in the dock. Ieng Sary’s wife Ieng Thirith is also facing prosecution, but has been ruled unfit for trial following a psychiatric examination although her case remains under review.

Regarding the ICJ, I don’t think there will be an effect in regards to its legitimacy and reputation. Each tribunal and case is independent and defined by very individual circumstances. The allegations made against the Khmer Rouge, including genocide and crimes against humanity, occurred more than 30 years ago and as such are outside the jurisdiction of international courts.

The ICJ falls under the United Nations, and it was decided a hybrid UN-Cambodian court was preferable for several reasons. Among them was that the Cambodians wanted a tribunal in which they were directly involved, and the UN was in an awkward position given its continued recognition of Pol Pot as head of state in Cambodia long after the crimes that had occurred under him had been documented. As such, the Extraordinary Chambers for the Courts in Cambodia (ECCC) was established. It has been a difficult marriage of two systems, but it was the best they could do and it has worked so far – despite some controversial and difficult moments.

Burma was given the chair of the ASEAN group for 2014. Can you explain in your opinion the reasoning for this?

First up, Burma has been a full member of ASEAN, which has a rotating chair, since 1997. Whether the world likes it or not, it is Burma’s turn to play host in 2014. In 2004, the country bowed to international and regional pressure, opting not to host the annual summit two years later, but the loss was an embarrassment. Now the military and government – no doubt acting on the advice of ASEAN – insists it has undertaken the correct steps to legitimize its position and be a worthy host. This includes, last year’s elections – regarded by many as a sham – the release of some political prisoners, including pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi, and a raft of other reforms. Leaders also stunned their critics by bowing to local concerns and suspending construction of a massive dam being funded by China, one of it few allies.

Despite this, many Burma watchers remain justifiably cynical about the country and the true intentions of its government, which at the end of the day is only being allowed to take its turn in the chair after a deal was brokered with ASEAN.

Joanna Springer (Twitter):
What can we expect from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s visit to Burma? Is such an honor given to Burma a little premature?

I wouldn’t consider it an honor. I think it’s her job.  I also think Burma has done enough to warrant a visit by the U.S. Secretary of State. Western powers have a policy of constructive engagement and U.S. President Barack Obama recently urged Burma to continue with its reforms, saying the United States would reciprocate in kind. Clinton is being sent as part of that U.S. response, and I think this is appropriate. However, that doesn’t mean the United States or anybody else thinks enough has been done by the Burmese government to begin easing sanctions. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright went to North Korea more than a decade ago, and that trip didn’t change much. But at least she tried. I suspect Clinton will fare better.

John McGregor (Facebook):
With the announcement of strengthening U.S.-Australian military ties, with its perceived intent of containing China, wouldn’t we (the United States) be wise to strengthen also our security ties with China, allowing them also to train within and on Australian shores?

Given America’s traditional alliances with Japan and Taiwan, there are limits to what can be done in terms of joint military exercises with the Chinese.  Also, I’m not convinced the Chinese would accept such an offer unless it was on its terms, and I doubt Australia – particularly the conservative ranks – would be open to such a suggestion. An example at the moment is the heated debate over whether Australia should sell uranium to India.

Perhaps a small force with observer status that would include some type of reciprocal rights might be possible in time, but I also doubt very much whether China would entertain such a notion, nor do I think it would achieve anything.

Sign up for our weekly newsletter
The Diplomat Brief