Sunday, June 26, 2011

Khmer Rouge trial fraught with drama in Cambodia

Khmer Rouge trial fraught with drama in Cambodia

The latest so far on the Khmer Rouge trial is coming through the news. This is really ironic since we are talking about events which occurred largely in the 70s followed by a various levels of insurgency which also encompassed the now popular Angkor Wat temple complex. Who's on trial? It's a pretty thick list according to the LA Times: Head of State Khieu Samphan, 79; Foreign Minister Ieng Sary, 85; his wife, Social Affairs Minister Ieng Thirith, 79; and the revolution's chief ideologue, Nuon Chea, 84.

The Prime Minister of Cambodia, Hun Sen, was a mid level Khmer Rouge member, so the resistance to the trials may not be exactly unexpected. This gets into the entire complexity of the role of the Khmer Rouge and the role of ideology in human affairs. Whatever the causes, the trials were started with much promise.

The Khmer Rouge period in Cambodia is actually an effective warning against how the power of ideas can destroy a country. Humans have the most unique capacity of using ideas as weapons of war. Although it is a trial about the past, it is more about the present than anything else. Can people get away with genocide? Well, that is possible. Hitler killed himself before getting captured, and therefore he escaped trial. Pol Pot died of old age before he ever got to the point of being on trial. If you look at the USA's history, we never really did convict anybody of massacring Indians, and Columbus was never held accountable for setting up the slavery system in the Caribbean. Maybe because of the amount of reading and research that I have been doing on the issue of genocide, I'm not entirely convinced that people are held responsible. For every feel good trial, there are others that escape prosecution. Numerous Nazis never were caught like Dr. Mengele.

On the other hand, the Rwanda trials are going well. In the sentencing of Pauline Nyiramasuhuko, the court has begun the process of healing in Rwanda. This is in direct contrast to the trials in Cambodia. The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda are actually being held in Tanzania, not in Rwanda.

So what does this mean for Cambodia? I'm not sure. We are dealing with many things when we talk about the Khmer Rouge. Without the Khmer Rouge, you ironically would not have Cambodia Town or "Little Cambodia" in the middle of Long Beach, CA. You also wouldn't have things like the TRG (Tiny Rascal Gangstas) or Asian Boyz either. Ultimately, everything is interconnected. Events in the world do not happen in isolation. The trials in Cambodia will have a ripple effect in Long Beach, CA.

A colleague of mine at the college, who is Khmer, told me that "I won't ever go back! You've been to Cambodia more than me." In that sense, I was looking at the soul of the trials. The Cambodia of the past is a source of pain and of shame. The Khmer Rouge essentially lost face for Khmers in the world. And who is to say if the trials go on, that more specific people will lose face. It does show how difficult it is to have a genocide trial in the country itself.