Michael Liu and the need for justice in Asia

Friday, February 13, 2015 - 09:53

By Justice Hub

Michael Liu is a lawyer representing victims at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia. He lectures in international rights and international humanitarian law at the Royal University of Law and Economics in Phom Penh. A short time ago, he founded the NGO "Chinese Initiative on International Law", which he describes as "an organic force derived from the communities from the other side of the world to understand, critique and eventually poromote intnerational justice in the region and around the world." On 3 February, he held a key-note speech at The Hague Talks in Humanity House. After his talk, the audience of young lawyers, students and peoople working in the field of international justice discussed how to deal with corruption in local judiciary systems.

“I come from a “troublesome” region if we talk about international justice. The Asian-Pacific has almost a tradition of non-engagement with international justice.

“There is no regional human rights court or regional human rights convention. Our richest country in the region, Singapore, does not wish to sign up with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and not to mention the fact we have relations with North Korea.

“Asia is also largely in default in another formidable international justice endeavor, the International Criminal Court. Even though the President of this Court is from an Asian country, Korea, he himself has observed that Asia is probably the least represented region at the ICC.

“Yet, there’s no doubt about the need for justice in Asia. The prosecutor of the ICC is proud that her office is serving the affected community. The number of victims her office mentioned for some of her cases is from around 10 to 100 thousand. Meanwhile, in the court I’m arguing in front of, the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of – known as the Khmer Rouge Tribunal the total death toll is estimated at around 1.7 million. This is a tiny country in the region. This number would be even higher if we looked at the atrocities in the neighboring countries.

“The number itself shows an imbalance in international iustice in the world.

“Assuming victims of mass atrocities want to see those who are responsible have been put away, assuming victims want to have closure for the horrendous crimes they have suffered. Assuming victims want to see justice. If justice is not being delivered, whose responsibility is that?

“Answering this question, experts in history, anthropology, human rights law professors have all given different answers. For example, there was never much of a renaissance period in Asia like in Europe where the value of humanity was re-considered. Or as an old saying in Chinese goes, “the winner the king, the loser the hooligans”. Justice is exclusively a trophy for the winner, the victors. “

“Ultimately, I believe that only if communities in the Asian countries are informed and determined to take upon the formidable task of using international justice to secure a better world, and only if our own people have been persuaded by the necessity to take advantage of international justice, can the idea cease to be perceived as exotic.

“In the past two years, I have been operating in line with this thinking. And one of the lessons I have learned is that the challenge is not only who is promoting justice, be it people in Asia or someone in the West, but also the approach or the methodology for seeking justice.

“Justice to many of us seems to mean a prosecution, trial, verdict. Having been a salesman for the ICC in the region for a while, I was often challenged by the question whether when there is consistent insufficient protection of human rights in a region or in a country (…), would the most advanced human rights protection theory actually work? Would it be effective? Or would it even be fair? Or would  an alternative approach make more sense in such a situation?

“I surely don't have an answer with that. No one seems to have a definite answer to these questions. The ultimate challenge is that searching for Justice has to operate in and be compatible with local dynamic and apparatus."

Photo: Kathinka Gaess / Justice Hub

My Justice highlights the stories of individuals who work in the field of international justice or who have been affected by it and asks what does justice mean to them. 


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Wednesday, April 22, 2015 - 21:17