• Last month, World Pulse founder Jensine Larsen attended the Khmer Rouge trials. Read her thoughts and insights in "Butterflies Over the Graves."
• Read World Pulse's previous coverage of Cambodia, survivor and activist Loung Ung's tribute to her homeland.
• Visit the Khmer Rouge Trial Web Portal to get breaking updates on the progress of the trial.
• Learn more about the Khmer Rouge in Time Magazine's photo-rich presentation, "The Rise and Fall of the Khmer Rouge".
• Support The People Improvement Organization, a program that works to educate Cambodia's most at-risk children.
• Watch this short video biography to learn more about Theary Seng's life and work.
• World Pulse recommends Daughter of the Killing Fields, Theary Seng's memoir.
Ushering In Cambodia’s Peace
Cambodia Today: The Tribunal
It is safe to say that every Cambodian who lived under the Khmer Rouge encountered similar emotional disquietude and restlessness. This tumult has been absorbed by the newer generation born following the brutal Khmer Rouge years.
We have been living without war for some years now, but we want and need more. We want a complete peace, a peace where there is justice. Just now we are painstakingly, slowly trading our past for our present.
After thirty painful years, we have cobbled together a court of law known informally as the Khmer Rouge Tribunal (also called the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, ECCC) to address the mass crimes of the Khmer Rouge and to usher in an era of peace.
Of course, a court of law anywhere in the world has its limitations. It must narrowly weigh evidence in order to determine guilt, and in this case, this evidence is 30 years old, compromised, lost, and witnesses are too fearful to come forward. The Tribunal is limited by charges of corruption, and the narrow scope of trying only the “most senior Khmer Rouge leaders” and those “most responsible” between April 1975 and January 1979. This narrows it down to only five members of the Khmer Rouge who will stand trial: the infamous director of the genocidal detention center Duch, Kang Kek Iew, and the senior leaders, Nuon Chea, Khieu Samphan, and Mr. and Mrs. Ieng Sary and Ieng Thirith.
Even so, the Tribunal provides for the first time in international law the opportunity for victims to become a ‘civil party.’ This unprecedented opportunity offers Cambodia two concrete, principal benefits: In the short term, it allows for the empowerment that comes from confronting head-on those senior Khmer Rouge leaders victims hold responsible. In the long term, the process provides for a lasting legacy of putting faces and names to the cold figure of 1.7 million.
In addition to the court of law, the Tribunal is also serving as a “court of public opinion.” As such it has become a powerful catalyst to build a culture of dialogue. We are finally discussing long-overdue topics of history, trauma, healing, reconciliation, and forgiveness.
We are imprisoned by our past and the Tribunal offers us a way out to freedom. However, it is difficult to assess what type of legacy will be had from this process that is fraught with politicking and charges of corruption. No matter how we slice society, behind every issue lies the history of the Khmer Rouge. We must deal with this horrific past if we are to win our battle against all the prevailing human rights abuses in contemporary Cambodian society.
Sometimes the challenges feel countless and they overwhelm me. We live in a sea of urgent issues constantly competing for our time—from military land grabbings, to rampant trafficking of women and children, to corruption, to deforestation, to political violence, to domestic abuse… Still, we are not without hope; we see it in the courage of Somaly Mam and the many others who are turning the tide against modern-day slavery; in Dr. Ing Kantha Phavi; in parliamentarians Mu Sochua and Tioulong Saumura working at the political level; to Chou Vineath and Chap Chandina who are using their skills in the NGO sector to expand the voice of the weak and vulnerable and to address issues of court reform. And, today, over half of Cambodian bloggers are young women who are creatively using new modes of communication to connect and to inspire.
Hope lies in the fellowship of being women, in collective suffering, in being attuned to compassion and the work of peace.
I have started out saying that my life has been a journey in pursuit of peace. I am glad to be traveling with kindred spirits: men and women who desire peace, the kind that is more than the absence of war, but necessitates the presence of justice. My homeland is a good place to start.