Thursday, September 18, 2008

too little, too late?

Late last night I read a short piece in the New York Times about the U.S.'s recent pledge of $1.8 million to the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia. The ECCC is a hybrid court system (a combination of United Nations and Cambodian efforts) tasked with the responsibility of trying the surviving leaders of the Khmer Rouge for atrocities committed in Cambodia between April 1975 - January 1979.

Most of you are likely familiar with what I mean by "atrocities," but for those who are not familiar and are interested in learning in greater detail, I recommend A History of Cambodia (David Chandler) and The Pol Pot Regime (Ben Kiernan). Or, if you're interested in a quicker tutorial, read the relevant portion of A Problem From Hell: America and the Age of Genocide (Samantha Powers) (which is one of my favorite books and definitely worth reading in its entirety) or watching the movie The Killing Fields (this is the really easy way out, but I still find the movie worth watching, especially for the Sam Waterston/Haing Ngor combo).

My mom and dad lost almost their all of their immediate family members (both sets of parents, seven out of nine siblings, plus countless extended family and friends) during the Khmer Rouge regime and the preceding bombings of the country. I cannot begin to describe what my parents or other Cambodians went through because now, even after many years of trying to wrap my mind around it, I cannot even begin to surmise what that level of loss might feel like. There are certain acts that speak volumes on their own and provide lucid illustrations of what loss looks like: My parents' prolonged silence when they are struck by certain memories at inopportune moments; my surviving aunties' matter-of-fact manner of discussing horrific acts committed against and in front of them; every one's intense dedication to family and community . . . . well, sometimes loss simply cannot be articulated through words alone.

I don't mean to use this post to dwell upon my family's personal losses, but I must first say that it is possible to miss something that you never had. There is not a day that goes by where I don't find myself thinking of my family, of our people, and allow myself to acknowledge --- even if only for a fleeting moment --- that pang of loss that stems from a recognition of an absence in my life. I may not have ever met my grandparents, aunties, uncles, cousins and others, but their absence has played a significant role in shaping who I am today.

But I digress. Back to the article. I'm pleased to see that the U.S. will provide some financial support to the ECCC, especially since the tribunal has made some steps to adhere to guidelines established by the international community (in an effort to combat corruption, etc). However, I'm still left with the question of whether this tribunal as a whole is simply too little, too late? Can justice truly be served decades after the commission of heinous crimes, after the main instigators of the crimes lived free to die of natural causes?

This is something I hope you'll contemplate. I have many more thoughts on this (no surprise), but I'll have to pause here for now. Bedtime calls, and an early day at the office awaits . . . .


Jen said...

I don't know if justice could ever be truly served or amends be made for the terrible losses of your family and other families in Cambodia. And, I definitely believe you can miss something you never had.

Anonymous said...

As usual, you have made me think. I am constantly amazed at the things humans will do to other humans for the sake of power. I remember when I my first Holocaust survivor and how incredibly moving it was just to be in the same room with someone who survived such horrific events. I also remember when Valerie and her sisters first came over here, and her aunt telling my grandmother about Lori's nightmares. Even though I was very young then, I still was incredibly upset that this poor girl was so terrified that she woke up screaming for her mother -- which, if I remember correctly, Chantra had not come over yet.

How can one make up for such awful things? Can justice ever truly be served? I tell, you, I just don't know. Because even if those responsible are brought to justice, it can never bring back those lost. So, then, can you still call it justice?