R econcile (rek'en sil'): "to settle or resolve, as in a dispute... to re-establish friendship between... to
bring oneself to accept...." Reconciliation reflects the goodwill of conflicting parties to move beyond the
barriers that divide - if not towards partnership, then at least towards tolerance or cooperation.
Pardon (par'dn): "to release from punishment... to absolve... to exempt from the penalties of an offense or
crime...." To pardon frees the offender from the consequences of the offense, no matter how heinous the crime.
Thus, to pardon is also to forgive and to forgive is to renounce anger.
THE pardoning of Ieng Sary
represents yet another odd chapter in the political evolution of Cambodia.
It is as if cartoon frames have replaced whole passages of historical truth - where tragedy is reduced to comedy
and fiction becomes fact. In this mythological tale, politicians climb over each other in a mad-hatter race to
stake their claims on the gem mines and forests of Pailin. This, they insist, represents the one true path to peace
For his crimes against humanity, Ieng Sary is rewarded with a pardon and his two military commanders get diplomatic
passports. The pardon itself will not diminish the pain and suffering of his victims. Ieng Sary will not slide
casually into history as a former errant architect of the Cambodian genocide, now turned peacemaker.
Like Pol Pot from whom he has opportunistically split, Ieng Sary will be judged for the irrefutable acts of brutality
committed by a regime that each has staunchly pursued, represented, and defended for all of their lives. To reconcile
with such men is to tempt the fate of a nation that has yet to get up off its knees.
Can reconciliation be achieved if justice is denied? Is forgiveness incompatible with justice? These are not idle
concerns - nor are the moral and political questions that emerge from them unique to Cambodia.
Fifty years have passed since Adolf Hitler took his own life in a Berlin bunker and thereby denied the Nuremberg
War Crimes Tribunal its star defendant. Since there was no shortage of willing participants in his final solution,
the Tribunal turned its attention to Hitler's high profile deputies, lesser known henchmen, and their collaborators.
The Nuremberg trials took one year, and once concluded, allied states were free to proceed with the post-war reconstruction
of Germany. But some crimes are just too vast in scope to ever forgive, even when justice is served. So it was
also convenient that Germany stood divided by the Cold War through the birth of two generations before it was reunited.
And yet evidence of collusion with Nazi Germany continues to surface to this very day as another nation comes face
to face with its own dark secrets. We know that the Swiss banking system is not the inviolate and neutral sanctuary
we have long believed it to be. For one thing, it has held millions, if not billions, of dollars belonging to the
living heirs of Holocaust victims for the past 50 years.
At least to the survivors of ethnic cleansing and genocide in former Yugoslavia, one factor stands out as an
insurmountable barrier to forgiveness and reconciliation: to date, none of the signatories to the Dayton peace
accords have handed over those most responsible for these crimes to the International War Crimes Tribunal in The
Hague. This is because all roads lead straight to them.
In Bosnia, former combatants - once friends and neighbors - cannot begin to forgive the crimes each committed against
the other as long as those who masterminded the destruction of their homes and the deaths of their loved ones are
free to hide, or worse still, to govern.
If, as many Bosnians would now argue, partition was the alternative to war before it began five years ago, this
is even more true now that elections have reinforced and legitimized the politicians who agreed only reluctantly
to stop the killing in exchange for the lifting of international sanctions.
One has only to stand upon the heights of Mount Igman above Sarajevo to understand why few dare cross the cease-fire
boundary between the ethnic entities of a precariously unified country. One has only to walk among the scarred
ruins of Srebrenica and the hundreds of ethnically cleansed villages throughout Bosnia to understand that it is
only a matter of time before this boundary becomes the border that it really is. In fact, nowhere in the world
today is the absence of freedom of movement more symbolic of a growing but tragic consensus for permanent partition
as a way to reconcile irreconcilable differences.
And yet memories fade. For this reason, the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission provides an interesting
model for other nations that seek to reconcile without sacrificing the cause of justice.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission is charged with determining facts. It cares less about jailing those responsible
for ordering and executing apartheid crimes than it does with understanding and exposing the chain-of-command.
Those who step forward with credible evidence of who did what, where, and when may be granted amnesty. Those who
do not, face prosecution.
To be sure, the Commission has a limited mandate. But it was established because Nelson Mandela knew that reconciliation
could not be achieved in South Africa until past deeds are collectively accounted for, and then revealed for all
the world to see.
This is because the truth, as Mr Mandela understood it from the confines of his prison cell, is not his alone.
Nor does he now presume forgiveness on the part of other victims when he speaks to his compatriots on the subject
of reconciliation from his well-deserved presidential pulpit.
For South Africa, the Truth Commission does not belong to jurists and juries, least of all to politicians. It represents
the very soul and foundation of the country in the post-apartheid era. It is because this commission exists that
reconciliation among black and white South Africans is even possible.
It has been years since Pol Pot and his cohorts led Cambodia down its tortuous path to the year zero. For this,
Ieng Sary has no remorse. Indeed, he claims that he never killed anyone. What he fails to understand is that there
are no statutory limitations to crimes against humanity - nor are they measured by who pulls the trigger.
It is one thing to pardon as an act of tolerance and forgiveness. It is quite another for truth to be obscured
by the re-writing of history. Historical revisionism, of the sort now in vogue in Phnom Penh, is not only dangerous
for Cambodia as a nation, it is an insult to those who have died at the unrepentant hands of criminals like Ieng
Sary. His victims deserve better.
- (Jamie Factor, a former resident of Phnom Penh, served most recently as an elections official in Bosnia-Hercegovina.