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Cambodia and the Challenge of Reconciliation

by Katie Leo 


Tags: Politics, war and peace, international, social justice, Cambodia, war crimes tribunals,

harper's

How does a country even begin to address the wrongs of genocide? That is the task facing The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), as it tries Kaing Guek Eav, also known as Duch, the first former member of the Khmer Rouge to answer for the killings of untold numbers of people during the regime’s reign. For many in the West, war crimes tribunals are a symbol of international justice. But in the March issue of Harper’s, Ben Ehrenreich illuminates just how complicated, and unresolved, this process can be.

The Cambodian truth and reconciliation process has been mired in international politics and complicated by a frustrating lack of information, according to Ehrenich. “The debate over what occurred and what it means often has more to do with Western ideological divides than with anything that could optimistically be called truth,” he writes, citing the vast differences in official death tolls as an example. The United States backed the Khmer Rouge during the cold war, so Ehrenich writes: “Ultimately, the number of deaths you want to attribute to the Khmer Rouge depends on how many deaths you are comfortable pinning on the United States.”  

The apparent ambivalence of the Cambodian people toward the tribunals presents another problem, according to Ehrenreich : “No Cambodians I met, however, expressed the faith so uniformly voiced in the West: that trying the surviving Khmer Rouge leadership represents the country’s ‘last chance’ for justice, and that prosecuting four old men and one old woman could being to settle history’s debts.”

Source: Harper’s (Subscription Required)