A Sad Victory

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Two people that did very bad things have been sentenced to life in prison for crimes that they committed as part of the Khmer Rouge takeover of Cambodia in the seventies. This is great fucking news.

Sometimes I wonder how you’re supposed to feel when bad things happen, but when those responsible get punished.

Happiness isn’t quite right. Vindication isn’t quite right either.

I think it’s just a sad victory.

For the record, I didn't take this photo. I was Colorado. This is what the WSJ says, though: "Soum Rithy, a Cambodian survivor of the Khmer Rouge, cries as he hugs Chum Mey, a survivor of Tuol Sleng prison, after hearing the verdict in the trial of two former Khmer Rouge leaders on Thursday. Agence France-Presse/Getty Images"

For the record, I didn’t take this photo. I was in Colorado. This is what the WSJ says, though: “Soum Rithy, a Cambodian survivor of the Khmer Rouge, cries as he hugs Chum Mey, a survivor of Tuol Sleng prison, after hearing the verdict in the trial of two former Khmer Rouge leaders on Thursday. Agence France-Presse/Getty Images”

That’s how I felt when I woke up one morning last week and read all the news about the verdict in the latest (and probably final) cases tried at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (or, the ECCC.) Both and Khieu Samphar (former President of Democratic Kampuchea or, Brother #4) were sentenced to life.

Nuon Chea - Deputy Secretary of Democratic Kampuchea or, Brother #2.

Nuon Chea – Deputy Secretary of Democratic Kampuchea or, Brother #2.

Khieu Samphar  - Former President of Democratic Kampuchea or, Brother #4.

Khieu Samphar – Former President of Democratic Kampuchea or, Brother #4.

They’re in their 80s, so maybe they’ll spend a few years behind bars. They’ll probably be fed reliable meals, they’ll have a bed, it’s unlikely that they’ll have to work in fields all day after a week with no food. They won’t stand blindfolded listening to their sons being killed by the back of a shovel and then thrown into a ditch. So thats nice for them.

This is a small victory. One indicating that a court set up in a corrupt country, but backed by enough countries and publicity might be able to do the right thing. And it ensures that two people that did bad things will stop living comfortably. But it’s too bad that when a court decides someone is guilty, the world can’t be re-wound and that all the bad, sad, unjustified things can’t be undone. Fathers won’t come walking back through rice fields to pick up where they left off and tiny babies won’t just appear back in the arms of their families. Cambodia would be a different place if that could happen.

A few months ago, I wrote about The Khmer Rouge and the 2010 conviction of Brother #1 and mentioned that he felt remorse for what he had done. Neither of those convicted last week feel remorse. They’ve both maintained that they were doing what was in the best interest of Cambodia.

Nuon Chea’s final arguments included this comment: “The CPK’s policy was clear and specific: it wanted to create an equal society where people were the master of the country … The CPK’s movement was not designed to kill people or destroy the country.”

Except that it did kill people. And it destroyed Cambodia to such a degree that the current generation, who weren’t even born when this happened, are emotionally impacted. While a bit outdated, Cambodia’s Curse by Joel Brinkley talks about the PTSD that’s been passed down from parents who lived through the Khmer Rouge to their children. I’d offer to lend the book to one of you out there, but I gave it to a nice German girl after too many glasses of wine on a river.

I’m sad that after all that has happened, neither of these guys can look back and think, “we really blew it, man.”

The ECCC must officially be done with their work sometime in 2015. While there are two more cases (four in total) open, these  probably won’t ever be heard. Hun Sen has said many times that he will not allow any additional trials to take place and that he feels justice has been served for the victims. The broad belief is that he’s afraid his supporters (or even he) will be found to have committed crimes. (For the record, they did.)

So, good work ECCC.

If you want some more info on the cases and the ECCC, check out this FACT SHEET. It’s easy to read and helpful for understanding what’s behind the ECCC and what they’re doing.

(PS – One of the comments under one of the stories with a headline that included mention of “crimes against humanity” said something like, “Saw the headline. Thought they finally got Cheney.” Oh, America.)

 ALSO! It would be great if any of my Camobodia-living friends that have thoughts on what’s happening over there in Cambodia after these verdicts could give me their thoughts. I’m interested!

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2 thoughts on “A Sad Victory

  1. War crimes trials are never satisfying. They simply close the official books on a tragic era. The crime is that too often all those complicit evade the final recounting of their acts by dying in peace beforehand or attaining the peace of old age that sadly shortens their sentences. But it is still critical to bring them to justice, if only to let them know they have not succeeded in erasing the memory of their deeds. That’s why it warms my heart when ever a 90 year old Nazi is brought to justice and deported from the US to go home and account for his deeds. The world knows what he did and the debt must be paid.

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