On Sunday the Americans celebrated Mother’s Day. We, Cambodians, can join them in honouring our mothers and grandmothers by demanding greater, more dignified justice from the Khmer Rouge Tribunal.
The Khmer Rouge created more than 1,200,000 orphans of whom I am one when they extinguished 1,700,000 lives including those of my father and mother. The last words of my mother (“My daughter, go back to sleep.”) continue to haunt me, as she lulled me in her arms the night of her violent death in Boeung Rai Security Center, whose mass graves contained 30,000 skulls.
My parents and those of the 1,200,000 other orphans’ were flesh and blood – with a name, a history, a family – and not some statistics or legal theories to be conveniently disposed of – again! – by the tribunal.
We honour them by demanding justice. Whatever justice may be – legal, social, restorative, etc – it must include TRUTH. TRUTH IS A PRE-CONDITION OF JUSTICE. Truth involves who speaks and who gets heard.
In extinguishing Cases 003 and 004, the tribunal extinguishes truth; it extinguishes justice; it extinguishes the voices of victims – those who died and those who survived – and our right to reparations.
We have been crudely conditioned to think of reparations mainly in monetary terms, which factor but insignificantly to what we desire of truth via reparations. It is useful to think of reparations with these six “R”s:
- RECOGNITION. There must be public recognition of the crimes, of the perpetrators and of the suffering of the victims. This recognition must include obligations of the state. Not only has the tribunal been negligent in recognising the suffering of the victims, it is being deceitful about its dealings of Cases 003/004.
- RIGHT TO REMEDY. This includes rights of participation, of design, of citizenship.
- REPAIR. Even if symbolic.
- REFORM. Let’s start with the judiciary!
- REAL AND REALISTIC. The reparations offered must be tangible and practical, eg provincial learning centres and memorials; the physical assets of the tribunal to furnish these learning centres and memorials.
- RECONCILIATION. It is not a moment but a process; it is not a principle but a strategy. What is happening now with regards to Cases 003/004 works against reconciliation as it works against truth-seeking.
The tribunal (including the UN) is engaging in great deceit. It thinks that truth is inconvenient, justice is inconvenient.
Well, so are 1,200,000 orphans living without our parents for the last 35 years.
But let me conclude not with these sordid facts but with the inspiration from the reverend Dr Martin Luther King, Jr, to raise all of us to higher grounds from the dirt of the tribunal: “Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice. Justice at its best is love correcting everything that stands against love.”
Theary C Seng,
president of CIVICUS: Center for Cambodian Civic Education; president of the Association of Khmer Rouge Victims of which the Civil Parties of Orphans Class is a subgroup.
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