The World Today for November 29, 2018

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Foxes and Free Birds

Pol Pot died before he could face justice for the deaths of 1.7 million Cambodians under his brutal communist regime.

Now others might escape, too.

Cambodian officials recently announced that they were winding down the work of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, or ECCC, a United Nations-backed tribunal charged with trying Khmer Rouge leaders who allegedly carried out genocide in the 1970s.

“Because there are some former Khmer Rouge officers living in this area, I would like to clarify that there will be no more investigations taking place, so you don’t have to worry,” said Cambodia’s Deputy Prime Minister Sar Kheng, according to Al Jazeera.

In one of the most tragic chapters of the Cold War era, the Maoist Khmer Rouge ordered the deaths of ethnic minorities, intellectuals and everyone else who might have opposed their regime, burying them in mass graves later referred to as the “Killing Fields.”

The tribunal was always supposed to focus only on senior level Khmer Rouge leaders. Punishing every Khmer Rouge member might have been too traumatic for society. The idea, rather, was to bring closure to millions who had suffered under the regime, set the historical record straight, and educate the world about the dangers to giving free rein to the worst impulses of humanity.

The tribunal convicted three men – ages 76, 87 and 92 – of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes and sentenced them to life in prison. The final verdicts against two of those men were handed down this month.

“The case … ends the sadness in Cambodia, although the injury is deep. It will end this sad story,” said Youk Chhang, executive director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia, which conducts research on the genocide, in the Phnom Penh Post.

But, as the Associated Press explained, many think the tribunal’s record is lackluster, especially considering how it spent $300 million on its proceedings.

Two of the convicted men are appealing, so they might yet win their freedom. Three other men were also charged but likely won’t stand trial.

“Part of what the ECCC’s legacy will be is entrenching the culture of impunity, rather than helping to end it,” Australian National University political scientist Rebecca Gidley told Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

In that context, Cambodian and foreign investigating judges issued conflicting rulings on Wednesday on whether the tribunal should move ahead in prosecuting another possible defendant, former Khmer Rouge naval commander Meas Muth, the New York Times reported. Cambodian co-investigating judge You Bunleng argued that Meas was not a senior enough leader to fall under the tribunal’s ambit, while international investigating judge Michael Bohlander of Germany said there’s enough evidence to indict him for the genocide of the Vietnamese, crimes against humanity, war crimes and homicide.

As that case moves to a special pretrial chamber to determine if it will go forward, consider who decided to shut the tribunal down in the first place.

Prime Minister Hun Sen was a member of a Khmer Rouge group that Human Rights Watch said committed genocide against Muslims in the 1970s. Hun Sen defected from the Khmer Rouge two years after helping bring it to power. Later, as prime minister, however, he also allegedly cracked down on dissidents in the 1980s and organized death squads against enemies, murdered political rivals and staged a bloody coup in the 1990s.

It would appear the fox is guarding the courthouse.



Where’s the Red Carpet?

Argentina has urged residents to leave Buenos Aires ahead of the G20 summit, which begins Friday.

The city has already gone into full security shutdown, the UK’s Guardian newspaper reported, and on Friday flights over the city will be diverted and public transportation suspended. The authorities are expecting 33 anti-G20 protests and cultural events.

“We know there are attempts to generate spaces of extreme violence and situations of chaos and disturbances during the G20,” said the security minister, Patricia Bullrich.

Of special concern is the scheduled attendance of Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, who is under fire for the war in Yemen and the killing of the dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Apart from possible demonstrations aimed at him, Human Rights Watch presented a writ Monday arguing that the Argentinian courts should invoke a universal jurisdiction statute to prosecute him for war crimes and torture.

It’s likely to be an eventful summit in other ways, too, with President Donald Trump saying he’ll meet Prince Mohammed but might rebuff Russian President Vladimir Putin over Moscow’s seizure of Ukrainian ships on Sunday.


Smoke and Mirrors

Russian President Vladimir Putin accused Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko of staging a naval confrontation with Russian gunboats on Sunday to boost his popularity ahead of elections next year.

“He had to do something to make the situation more tense,” Putin said Wednesday, according to the BBC.

The Ukrainian parliament approved the imposition of martial law in 10 out of 27 regions of the country for 30 days on Monday, Al Jazeera reported. Poroshenko said the measure was needed to prevent a full-scale Russian invasion, while the Kremlin said the largely symbolic gesture would just escalate tensions.

On Sunday, Russian FSB border guards opened fire on two Ukrainian gunboats and a tug before seizing the ships and their crews. At least three sailors were wounded in the altercation, which resulted as part of a dispute over passage through the Kerch Strait to the Sea of Azov.

Poroshenko could certainly use something to boost his popularity. In a recent poll, nearly 50 percent of respondents said they would not vote for him under any circumstance next year, the BBC said.


War, and Incomplete Peace

South Korea’s call for compensation from Mitsubishi Heavy Industries for its use of forced labor during World War Two is “totally unacceptable,” Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono said Thursday.

“This fundamentally overturns the legal basis for friendly ties between Japan and South Korea and is extremely regrettable. It is totally unacceptable,” Kono said in a statement, Reuters reported.

Earlier Thursday, in the second such ruling in a month, South Korea’s supreme court ordered Mitsubishi Heavy Industries to compensate 10 South Koreans for forced labor during Japan’s colonial occupation of the Korean Peninsula, the Washington Post reported.

Japan says such claims were settled in 1965 as part of war reparations, but that hasn’t stopped hundreds of victims from filing suit, and South Korean President Moon Jae-in has expressed his support for the plaintiffs, the Post said.

With at least 10 more cases involving more than 900 plaintiffs still pending, the dispute could complicate Seoul’s efforts to form a united front with Tokyo against threats from North Korea and China.


Web of Mystery

In proportion to its size, spider silk is considered stronger than steel when it comes to tensile strength – the measure of a material’s capacity to withstand an elongating force.

But scientists have been unable to properly study spider silk’s strength due to the thinness of its cylindrical strands, which are hard to see in a microscope.

Researchers made a breakthrough recently, however, by using the unique silk of the brown recluse spider, Smithsonian Magazine reported.

The brown recluse produces a flat ribbon silk that is easier to examine through atomic force microscopy, which looks at the strands at a molecular level.

Scientists reported in their study that the spider’s silk was made of 1 micron-long nanostrands of protein that cling together to produce a full strand.

“We were expecting to find that the fiber was a single mass,” co-author Hannes Schniepp said in a statement. “But what we found was that the silk was actually a kind of tiny cable.”

The same team previously reported that the spiders also created tiny loops in their silk while weaving, amplifying the strength of the web.

At the moment, scientists are still learning how to produce spider silk for commercial use in products like clothing, bulletproof vests and medical appliances.

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