As human beings, we are made to communicate. The ability (and right) to express oneself is fundamental to what it means to be fully human, hence the inclusion of the “freedom of expression” as one of four basic freedoms in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
When we communicate, we feel the naturalness of it all, that this is right and true.
To the contrary, when we cannot communicate – either by force or natural limitations – we feel the knots and angst, suffocation and powerlessness – and the unnaturalness, the sense that we are going against who we are created to be.
We often call this need and desire to communicate our “voice” – not only in the vocal sense, but to encompass expression generally. The more authentic is this voice, the more we are true to self, which I believe to be the great quest of life.
The best way to know and appreciate the value of something is to be without it for a time.
For me, I grew up not having a voice, hence powerless, suffocated and in angst. As a child of 4 to 8 years old living under the Khmer Rouge regime, I was silenced by the lack of a childhood of laughter and learning; silenced by constant gnawing hunger and weakness; silenced by the pervading fear of impending death; silenced by the surrounding deaths, deaths’ mourning and stench; silenced by my playground, the consuming graves.
When one is thus silenced, the silence befriends emotional turmoil and makes for a very distraught, broken person – in this case, a child. It took me the next 10 years to break this silence – to find, to re-gain, to strengthen my voice.
I did this within the safety of a loving family, a loving environment by READING, READING, READING – first to know (‘Why do I feel this way?’ ‘Am I alone in this feeling?’) and then to understand (‘Ah, this state of suffocation and tumult is not natural, it is not my true self which desires to be heard’).
(This is the principle reason I studied law because I was impressed in my readings by the ability of those with law degrees to articulate well.)
As someone once told C.S. Lewis, “you read to know you’re not alone.” Somewhere, someone has experienced the loss, the anguish, the tears, the exhilaration we are experiencing, for as Solomon tells us, there is nothing new under the sun. Books, a means of democratization, connect us with that someone. That is why I will always be a voracious reader of bio- and auto- biographies. “The author who benefits you most,” writes Oswald Chambers, “is not the one who tells you something you did not know before, but the one who gives expression to the truth that has been dumbly struggling in you for utterance.”
All the readings gave me tools (ideas, confidence, knowledge) to release all the angst and tumult knotted inside me.
ECCC Victims’ Participation
In our current society, I see having no voice as a serious societal problem for most of us Khmers. We do not have or have limited voice mainly due to societal and political restrictions which do not encourage our human potential to gain or strengthen our voice through quality education and high living standards. Rather, these constraints keep us in ignorance and mute with fear, busying us with thoughts of survival and pangs of hunger.
We, at CSD, work to address this problem by creating forums to draw out Khmer voices – be it the Justice & National Reconciliation dialogues, the Voice of Justice radio programs or the civil party seminars for the Orphans Class.
In our outreach work, one of CSD’s goals is to engage the common Khmer to tell his or her story. Through these expressions, we can better understand how to restore dignity of victims, to bring about personal healing and reconciliation, to mark a break with the past and to restore trust. These voices will help to make a more durable peace. It is natural not to want to open old wounds of the past for fear of breaking the existing fragile peace, but true peace is active and works to break the cycle of violence and conflict.
The ECCC also provides an unprecedented, incredible avenue for the voices of victims to be heard. In allowing victims to become a direct party to the criminal proceeding, the ECCC formally acknowledges the healing power of having a voice in its goal of national reconciliation. As a matter of law and practice, a party recognized by a court has the fundamental right to be heard.
To have a voice is fundamentally human. Only when we Khmers find our voice, strengthen this voice, and make this voice genuine and true, will we be at peace within ourselves and with others around us.
For related columns, please visit www.csdcambodia.org “Voice of Justice Program” – Necessity of Outreach: Justice, Peace and Reconciliation (Jan. 26-Feb. 8, 2007); Civil Party: Khmer Victim(s) v. Charged Senior KR Leader(s) for Crimes against Humanity (etc.) (Nov. 2-15, 2007); Justice & Reconciliation: A National Dialogue (Nov. 16-29, 2007); Statement of Civil Party Theary Seng to Pre-Trial Chamber: Nuon Chea’s Appeal of Provisional Detention, 8 Feb. 2008 (March 21-April 3, 2008); The Reasonableness Test: Is it reasonable in light of totality of circumstances? (May 2-16, 2008).
Theary C. SENG