THE question of why Khmers killed Khmers has been raised privately among Khmer Rouge survivors as well as publicly to legal, human rights and historical institutes, organisations and activists.
Most survivors’ children must have asked this question of their parents, older relatives and teachers who they hope can provide them with a clear answer.
This query shows that survivors’ need is not to know who committed the crime but why. The Khmer Rouge brought so much destruction, tragedy and misery. Even the society today remains divided. Did the Khmer Rouge think they were doing a good thing?
The question “Why did the Khmer Rouge mistreat and barbarously kill their own” has been raised at almost every forum held by the Documentation Centre of Cambodia’s outreach and education programmes.
It seems that the questioners find it hard to believe, or don’t want to accept the fact, that their own nation was destroyed and put into chaos by their own blood. Or they feel ashamed of their own people, so they try to escape from the truth by grasping at other explanations. So far, world scholars on Cambodia including David Chandler have no answer to this “why”.
But there is still hope for an answer to this question.
Recently, the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia announced the filing of the Closing Order for Case File 002, indicting Khmer Rouge senior leaders Ieng Sary, Ieng Thirith, Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea, and sending them for trial before the ECCC Trial Chamber on charges of crimes against humanity, war crimes, genocide and crimes under the 1956 Cambodian penal code. The whole case file extends to more than 350,000 pages – more than 223,000 of which relate to the substance of the charges.
Will Case 002 put the question of “why” to rest? Will all Cambodians wake up and accept that it was Khmers killing Khmers during the Khmer Rouge time?
Through the ECCC process some survivor questions have been answered and many more will hopefully be answered next year when the trial begins. Those responsible for the crimes of the Khmer Rouge period must pay for them so that survivors can finally be relieved from their suffering.
We need to learn from the trials to work for a virtuous life and social harmony. Society must judge the people who act wrongly within society.
Otherwise, there will be no justice in this world and we will never know the answer to the question “why”.
Sayana Ser is a team leader with the student/community outreach programme at the Documentation Centre of Cambodia.