Saturday, March 21, 2009

Alas, Justice for Some Monsters

On March 30th and 31st, Comrade Duch will be brought to justice. He and four other senior surviving members of the Khmer Rouge are to be tried for the genocidal atrocities of the KR's nearly four years of ruling Cambodia. Although some find it remarkable that the trial—12 years in the making and 30 years after Khmer Rouge regime ended—is happening, it is more remarkable that this justice by international tribunal is now commonplace.

The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia is an international tribunal for (essentially) historical justice established in 2003, becoming operational in 2007. Its website is detailed and tri-lingual. The public is welcome at the trials and the stated purpose of the Extraordinary Chambers is:
to provide fair public trials in conformity with international standards. The chief goal is to provide justice to the Cambodian people, those who died and those who survived. It is hoped that fair trials will ease the burden that weighs on the survivors. The trials are also for the new generation - to educate Cambodia's youth about the darkest chapter in our country's history.
As Richard Bernstein wrote in an excellent article on the upcoming trials in the April 9th issue of The New York Review of Books , not everyone will be brought to justice. The Khmer Rouge’s leader Pol Pot died and Cambodia’s current Prime Minister Hun Sen was a KR official. The tribunal’s focus on only five defendants suggests an unofficial immunity to the many others who terrorized and murdered over 3 million of their fellow Cambodians. But this is not an unfamiliar result with other tribunals.

The accounting of history is any tribunal’s real accomplishment. Kaing Guek Eav, aka Comrade Duch, has a history comparable to any German, Japanese, or Serbian war criminal. He was commandant of the Tuol Sleng prison in Phnom Penh, better known as S-21, which is now Cambodia’s national museum to the Khmer Rouge genocide.

Like other modern torturers, the Cambodians kept detailed records of their victims. hp Even though the vast majority of the victims were Cambodian, foreigners were also imprisoned, including Vietnamese, Laotians, Indians, Pakistanis, Britons, Americans, New Zealanders and Australians. Out of an estimated 17,000 people imprisoned at Tuol Sleng, there were only twelve known survivors.

This last fact recalls many Japanese POW camps. The most infamous was Sandakan, a prison compound in British North Borneo (now Sabah) that held over 2,400 Australian and British POW's, mostly captured when Singapore fell. Only six Australians who escaped survived to the end of the war. Those who did not die of disease or starvation were murdered. [More on Sandakan HERE.]

Tribunals do matter; no matter how imperfect. Yet, too many Japanese argue that they are only “victor’s justice.” They do not understand that there is too deep a need for an accounting, for history to be recorded for both the victims and themselves. It is no longer acceptable for the "winner" to have won the fight to the death. The winner has to be accountable, as does the loser.

This week in Washington there will be two interesting programs on memories of Japanese war crimes and the Tokyo Tribunal.

THE TOKYO WAR CRIMES TRIAL AT SIXTY: LEGACY AND REASSESSMENT. 3/23, 4:00-6:00pm, Washington, DC. Sponsors: Sigur Center Project on Memory and Reconciliation, Elliott School of International Affairs, George Washington University (GWU), and Sasakawa Peace Foundation. Speakers: Yoshinobu Higurashi, Kagoshima University, author of The Tokyo Trial and International Relations: Power and Norms in International Politics, (2002) and The Tokyo Trial (2008); Yuma Totani, University of Hawai'i, author of The Tokyo War Crimes Trial: The Pursuit of Justice in the Wake of World War II (2008); Daqing Yang, GWU; Mike Mochizuki, GWU. Location: The City View Room, Elliott School of International Affairs, GWU. 7th Floor, 1957 E Street, NW.

Noon-2:00pm, Washington, DC. Sponsor: George Washington University (GWU) Elliott School of International Affairs' Institute for European, Russian, and Eurasian Studies. Speakers: Mike Mochizuki, associate professor of political science and international affairs at GWU; Daqing Yang, associate professor of history and international affairs at GWU; and Lily Gadner Feldman, senior fellow in residence at the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies at Johns Hopkins University. Location: GWU Elliott School, 1957 E St., NW, Voesar Conference Room, Suite 412.

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