As I first entered this world of unfulfilled closure that has been clouded with images of bombings, genocide, killing fields, child killers and neighboring country invasions, I sincerely had no idea what this place would hold for me. I was unsure as to whether I would be overwhelmed by the empathy I felt for the broken spirits of the people or whether the sullen and pure eyes of villagers, squatters and city dwellers alike would be enough to leave an impression of both humility and inspiration. I have waited long and hard throughout this journey to find the appropriate topic, but more so, the appropriate language for which I felt both confident and compelled enough to join this network of bloggers from our place in the SouthEast. Now, that is not to suggest that I have been void of topical issues or inspirational words that combined would constitute elaborate sentences, but I have yet to find the natural and organic language that would best represent the country we have chosen to research. By now, my colleagues have filled these pages with images of Battambang, Siem Reap and Phenom Phen; of Tuk-Tuk drivers and majestic sunsets; of markets and bargains; Pagoda's and Monks; and perhaps even, descriptions of pure smiles and honest eyes. Yet for me, in spite all of these images that have no doubt left their indent on my thoughts and perspective, what I have found to be one of the most compelling aspects of our journey has been the the constant discourse our group has had with one another and with Cambodian citizens alike in regard to the Khmer Rouge Tribunals that will begin in February.
For some, these tribunals will be the culmination of years of frustration in which they were left with no one to hold accountable for the death, torture and slavery that they endured. Yet for others, these tribunals come years too late. For them, they are nothing more than an elaborate form of window dressing in which whatever "justice" decreed will be bittersweet for nothing could erase the images that haunt their dreams and saturate their daily existence. However, for others, the tribunals will be the ultimate form of symbolism and closure they crave that will finally empopwer them to forgive those who fronted a regime that destroyed the spirit of this country for 3 years, 8 months and 20 days. However, the twisted irony I have found has been the true disconnect of ideology the Cambodians possess in regards to the utility of these very Tribunals. For some, it is a fitting end to a dark imprint on this Country and culture's history. For others, it is nothing more than an elaborate and complex waste of resources that has left the rest of the Country wondering what will be left for them once this institutionalized form of justice plays out.
I, for one, have no answers to any of those questions. On the one hand, if it is understood that that the legal system in any country is both broken and efficient, then how are these trials any different from any other trial in our world? Granted, 5 separate trials is a small piece of a very bloodied and dark moment in Cambodian history that does not even scratch the surface of "punishing" and holding accountable the responsible parties who committed such crimes against humanity and who were the primary parties of the genocide that had infected this country. However, is the government suppose to refuse such Trials because there are not "enough defendants?" What if the prosecution of 5 primary parties is a true and symbolic gesture of accountability that the republic can give to its' people in which it decree's that the instigators of genocide will be held accountable for what they have done to their very own? What if the republic recognizes that there were no true demons during this time, but that the "soldiers of the Khmer Rouge" children and youth alike, alongside the tortured, killed and enslaved, were all victims of the same demon and that by holding these trials they are able to recognize the tremendous amount of grey in the discussion of "good versus evil" and "soldier versus victim."
But, as we have begun to understand some of the history of those times and the true ugliness that existed during those years, we have begun to understand the complexity of that time and the unsettling truths of survival and necessity that unquestionably plagued every soul who was caught in the web of despair that defined this country for so long. As I sit here on the cusp of this trip coming to an end, I find that I, like most, have my personal opinions on the matter, but truly have no answers nor a clear perspective of what these Tribunals sincerely mean and represent. I only know what I believe and can only process what I learn and hear, but have no avenue for which to truly address what can be proven, and ultimately I cannot even begin to phathom a way to answer the timeless question of "what is the purest definition of truth truth and the most sincere and thorough form of justice." These are questions that very well may linger, but at least we have been given the chance to process those thoughts, to ask the questions we find we need answered, and to debate those very issues with one another and the people alike. And, as I find myself about to depart a Country and a People that I have grown to adore, I realize that those questions, along with the images of the countryside filled with shanty upon shanty, and echoing with the laughter of the children and painted with the smiles each and every person alike, I realize the gift that this trip has been and have slowly begun to understand the great humility and inspiration it has brought me.