Khmer Rouge Trial Costs: A PerspectiveJuly 12, 2006
Imagine the year is 2036. George Bush, Tony Blair and John Howard, the current leaders of the USA, the UK and Australia are being persecuted by the UN for the War on Terrorism that occurred in Afghanistan and Iraq and the alleged atrocities that ensued when it was finished in early 2009 with the advent of a new administration in the White House.
The cost of that trial in today’s dollars will be over $149 billion. All this money will be spent to send some aging misguided former leaders to trial to pay for the sins of their past. That is a hell of a lot of dollars to spend on a trial, but hey, justice is worth it right? No matter if 40% of the country is living below the poverty line, justice is worth it, right?
This may sound a fanciful amount, but it is not. It is the current situation in Cambodia with the Khmer Rouge trials that are soon to begin. The cost of those trials may only be a mere $56 million, but that money needs to be viewed in perspective.
This amount may not be all that much in the west, especially in such countries that are vociferous donors to such godly Cambodian causes, such as the USA, Japan, Australia, the UK and France. These are countries that are wealthy and have well developed industrial economies.
It is not even a lot of money in terms of court cases. The recent courtroom defence (not prosecution or court costs) of the two Enron executives in the USA is believed to have cost those two around $23 million and that was just a mere criminal case involving two defendants and an established non-corrupt judicial system.
In comparison $56 million to fund both the prosecution and the defence and court costs as well is chicken feed. The cost is also minimal when you consider that the proposed trial, under the august auspices of the United Nations may well be the only non-corrupt court in the country.
Well let us put this $56 million in perspective.
Remember that 75% of the population in Cambodia is engaged in subsistence farming, fighting famine and enduring corruption to survive on a daily basis and 40% of the population lives below the poverty line. The Cambodian government budget revenues were around $560 million in 2005, with $504 million pledged in grants and concessional loans for 2005 by international donors on the condition that the Cambodian government implement steps to reduce corruption.
As indignant as the Government is about the current World Bank – please explain – over corruption related to some loans and project money, the fact remains that the $504 million in loans and donations represents the equivalent of 90% of the Cambodian government revenues for one year.
The Cambodian Gross Domestic Product, a measure of the income of the country, is estimated for 2005 to be $4.729 billion or roughly $340 per person. $56 million is 1.1% of GDP. Now this might not sound a lot but if we compare like with like at 1.1% of GDP, this is the cost in dollar terms of the trial in the following countries:
USA: $149 billion
Japan: $56 billion
UK: $26 billion
Australia: $7.3 billion
France: $24 billion
$56 million is 10% of estimated Cambodian government revenues. Now comparing it to government revenues in dollar terms for those other countries the cost of the trials is…
USA: $212 billion
Japan: $136 billion
Australia: $25 billion
UK: $88 billion
France: $106 billion
The mandarins of the UN and various NGO?s who have been riding the gravy train of decent salaries and hardship allowances for eons may view this trial as of vital importance, but how important is this trial considered in Cambodia?
More than 50% of the population is under 20 years old. Considering that the Vietnamese liberated the majority of the country from the murderous rule of the Khmer Rouge (KR) some 27 years ago it is safe to say that significantly less than half the population have any living memory of that fateful dark period of KR rule. On an international perspective it would be interesting to see how many citizens of the donor countries could even point out Cambodia on a map of the world.
But $56 million is a drop in the ocean to ensure justice is served, albeit severely delayed justice, even if very few of the KR leading cardre are left alive, right? It is not a lot of money after all and will be money well spent, right?
The above figures help to put this trial into perspective. Whilst $56 million may not be a lot of money in the USA, which is running a budget deficit of around $2 billion a day (much of that deficit funds a war that many in the USA consider to be immoral and illegal), it is a lot of money in one of the poorest countries in the world. If the current regime in the USA is held accountable for the current actions of their army in 25 years time one wonders if the government at that time in the future would consider it prudent to spend such a large amount of money on prosecuting the current regime?
$56 million is a lot of money in Cambodia. This is attested to by the fact that the poor Cambodian government was only able to come up with a couple of million dollars to help fund the trial, and that is fair enough given the rather meagre size of government revenues.
If this trial money was to be spent in Cambodia then it would filter through the economy in terms of goods and services. The poor people of Cambodia would stand a chance of benefiting from the spending of $56 million.
Unfortunately most of that money will likely go in paying salaries and ‘hardship allowances’ to the NGOs and the UN administrators and lawyers who will continue to ride the gravy train and fly into Cambodia to be involved in the trial – one thing most of us all know is that when a case goes to trial the only ones who usually benefit are the lawyers.
100% of the people of Cambodia lived a subsistence farming life under the Khmer Rouge and 70% of them do so today, nearly thirty years later. At that rate it will only be another 60 odd years before no one is a subsistence farmer in Cambodia. The spending of $56 million on the KR trials will ensure that the 40% of Cambodians living in poverty can struggle out of their poverty knowing full well that justice was served for events that happened before most of them were born.