8.4 - Why the Khmer Rouge Tribunal Matters to the Cambodian...

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Why the Khmer Rouge Tribunal Matters to the Cambodian Community: Justice for the Future, Not the Victims by Youk Chhang Director, Documentation Center of Cambodia Phnom Penh, Cambodia My family was evacuated to the countryside during Democratic Kampuchea. One day, the Khmer Rouge caught my brother-in-law stealing rice from the commune kitchen and beat him to death. His wife (my sister) developed a stomach ache later that night and was taken to a Khmer Rouge hospital. There, they told her she was sick because she had eaten that stolen rice, and cut her stomach open to prove it. She also died. Thirty years later, our family is divided over whether putting the Khmer Rouge on trial would bring them justice for my sister’s death. After the regime, the chief of a village where some of my family members disappeared pedaled his bicycle to Phnom Penh to apologize to our family, bringing us bananas and meat as a sort of restitution. No one else in the family would accept his apology, but my mother said it was enough. Her attitude is a very Buddhist one, and his act put her heart to rest. She never wanted me to return to Cambodia and work toward a legal accounting for the crimes committed during Democratic Kampuchea, and never understood why I didn’t remain in the United States. Over time, my mother has come to believe the tribunal is a good thing, but feels it will only be effective with the support of the international community. My niece Theavy takes another view. She was only five or six years old when her parents died and has lived most of her life in the United States. She once wrote me saying, “ I don’t believe that justice is enough for what had happened to my family. No justice in the world will bring my family back.” She has never wanted to return or even visit surviving family members in Cambodia, believing that the reality of Cambodia today would be just an illusion to her. I take a different view: that the tribunal is important and that we need prosecution before we can ever reach the point of true forgiveness. Justice has already been obtained
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