March 09, 2009

Dialogue and the Khmer Rouge tribunals

Photo courtesy of the Far Eastern Economic Review, article cited below.

One of the recurrent topics at a meditation group in Boeng Keng Kang with some teens is the culpability of the Khmer Rouge soldiers. The KR period is not a dialogue that younger generations born after the atrocities actively engage in. It's a concern of many advocates and the international community here that some young adults are ignorant of the fact that it ever even occurred. There are several factors at work.

One is that while a lot of aid is allocated to feel-good causes taxpayers back home like, eg HIV, private sector development, democratisation, conservation etc, there is little committed to other needs, like mental health. It just isn't sexy enough. So despite the high prevalence of PTSD (so soon post-conflict), the advocacy and attention given this problem and opening a greater dialogue or forum has no momentum.

Another complaint, which has been gaining more voice, is the lack of efforts to educate Khmers on the significance and progress of the KR tribunal. The tribunal finally began after years of setbacks and conflicts. But for many, it's almost as if the trials are a matter of course rather than for the benefit of the Khmers. There's no shortage of interns, academics and legal aids pouring into the country from abroad, each coming with high fees and expenditures. But to host townhall meetings, debates or panels?-- the efforts are sparse.

It's truly a wasted opportunity. Khmers emerged from this period with a cultural identity crisis. The country is caught up in a rapid development pace that even this global crisis won't impact as much as other countries of similar development stage. Teens affiliate more with "western" culture than with their own, in the quest to modernise and westernise as quickly as possible, while elements of their heritage and traditions are increasingly lost.

The meditation group (impressively) discussed the culpability factor, when executioners are under orders on threat of a gruesome death themselves. And to see these kids crying after being told (by foreigners) of the facts of their history that their elders won't discuss with them (understandably to a certain level).. it's unsettling.

Recently these articles appeared in the NY Times that addressed this culpability issue. How do you mete out justice to the pee-ons while elements of the Khmer Rouge still sit in the current administration?
Trials in Cambodia Expose the Cogs in a Killing Machine
At Trial, a Plea for Rights of a Khmer Prison Official.

Locally, thanks in part to people like Chea Vanthan and arts communities like at Meta House, there has been increased advocacy to engage young people in this very important dialogue about their history. And since the tribunals have begun, people are now starting to engage.

On the political level, from the Far Eastern Economic Review is a good article on the issues plaguing the legitimacy of the tribunals: Judging the Khmer Rouge Tribunal. Some of author John Hall's recommendations:

1) Limit opportunities for political interference in judicial decision making.
2) Create an independent investigation mechanism for accusations of wrongdoing.
3) Human rights monitors, NGOs and reporters must be allowed to keep their sources confidential.
4) Ensure adequate whistleblower protections for those reporting wrongdoing.

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