Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Cambodian War Crimes Tribunal

Earlier on this blog, Marie posted about the War Crimes Tribunal in Cambodia (8/4/09, 8/10/09, 12/17/09 and 7/26/10). Last Sunday's Boston Globe had an interesting essay about the United States' involvement in the tribunal, as a form of diplomacy, of competing against the massive investment that China is making in Cambodia by exporting Western values of justice and due process. By Peter Canellos, the essay quotes David Scheffer, the former US ambassador for war crimes in the Clinton administration, identified by Canellos as a key instigator of the court.
When you have egregious crimes of this character, they sweep across society. Achieving the rule of law is a means of addressing the challenges of corruption, and land rights, and human rights. With Cambodia, sustaining a court of this character has an effect on the entire society as it confronts other challenges.

It’s one of the cheapest ways of projecting American values in the world.
Canellos, the Globe's editorial page editor, visited Cambodia for onsite investigative reporting on this story, according to the article and Globe website. He also spoke with He Kranh Tony, a Cambodian official who is the main liaison between the government and the Court, who told him
After 1979, there were less than 10 people who were judges and lawyers in the whole country. There is [still] no real administration in the national courts. ... [For average Cambodians and jurists alike, the court has been a revelation.] They see that we are doing it properly. They see the due process. They see the judges. They see the defense.

You can visit the home page for the Cambodian war crimes tribunal, which is a very rich site. There are videotaped recordings of the witnesses being questioned in the court. The testimony is delivered in English through the voice of translators, but one has the impression that even in Khmer, the answers are very dispassionate. But the content of the answers are blood chilling, telling about whole villages being uprooted and moved to other villages where there was no food or housing for them. Minority populations were treated particularly harshly. The rationale for all this was that these people had "betrayed the revolution." Of course, that is what happened to all those judges and lawyers as well. Besides the videotaped proceedings of the tribunal, there are lots of links to news stories from around the world, reports from ECCC and NGOs, materials from the prosecution background and history on the tribunal and commentary.

Just by coincidence there was a recent story in the Boston Globe about a children's book about the Cambodian genocide, told as the biography of Arn Chorn-Pond, a child survivor who was eventually adopted by a family in Massachusetts. Arn Chorn's family were musicians, another class which was systematically destroyed by the Khmer Rouge. Ironically, it was Arn's ability to play the flute which saved him. But very few people in Cambodia today know anything about music, and one of his projects is to teach Cambodian children to play instruments and to sing.

The Khmer Rouge killed thousands of their countrymen, but I had never considered until these two things came together for me how they had destroyed the culture of their country. It was a great deal like the "Great Leap Forward" of the Cultural Revolution in China, but I think it was more devastating in Cambodia. They managed to kill far more of the educated elite, and artists of all sorts, apparently. The carriers of cultural values of all sorts. How chillingly efficient.

The image of a Cambodian man visiting Tuol Sleng (formerly S-21 prison) Museum in Phnom Penh is courtesy of the Herald Sun of Australia, http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/breaking-news/australia-donates-to-khmer-rouge-trials/story-e6frf7jx-1226310760248

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