March 22, 2012

Reflections on Cambodia: The Long Road to Recovery

As we’ve learned from our friends at Cambodian Living Arts, recovering from the legacy of the Khmer Rouge is a long and on-going process. After years of debate between the UN and Cambodian government, a war crime tribunal, designed to persecute those culpable for the mass slaughter that killed 1.7 million Cambodians between 1975-1979, was established in 2003. But it wasn’t until 2006 that proceedings against Khmer Rouge officials formally began. Unfortunately, rather than bringing justice upon those who killed and closure for those who suffered, the war tribunal has been marred from its origin by corruption and resistance from within the Cambodian government. In 2009, “Duch,” the notorious leader of Phnom Penh’s torture center Tuol Sleng Prison, who was responsible for at least 14,000 deaths, was sentenced to a mere 19 years in prison for his crimes against humanity.

Even now, corruption continues to plague the proceedings. The New York Times and Al Jazeera reported on Monday that UN judge, Laurent Kasper-Ansermet, has stepped down from his post in the tribunal. Kasper-Ansermet cited interference from the government as his reason for leaving and stated, “The situation is completely blocked.”  This is not the first UN Judge to give up on the proceedings, in October 2011, Judge Siegfried Blunk also stepped down, when faced with similar resistance.

While the continuation of corruption and resistance within the Cambodian government to persecute those responsible for the Khmer Rouge’s bloody reign is extremely disappointing; it does demonstrate just how important public awareness and pressure is to ending the long legacies of war. It has been over thirty years since the Vietnamese stormed Phnom Penh, ending the official rule of Pol Pot, but Khmer Rouge influence continues. Peace is a long process and often feels like a steep uphill climb, but it is something that we must continue to work towards, despite the odds. Last year’s Arab Spring demonstrated the power of the people to unite against tyranny and corruption. If official proceedings fail, then we must turn towards grass roots approaches and show the world that we as fellow human creatures will no longer stand for the continuation of human rights abuses. It may be a long road, but through education, awareness and the extended hand of friendship, we can work together to build a global community and “unblock” the path to peace and recovery.

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