Monday, February 2, 2009

Cambodia: A final reflection

I read some where that when you go to Phnom Penh you both learn to love and hate the city. To be perfectly honest, my feelings about this broken, yet hopeful, city reside some where in the middle. It holds an incredible amount of some of the most gruesome history belonging to the Khmer people and at the same time it represents how the city, much like the Khmer people, are trying to rebuild what was taken away so many years ago. The Killing Fields and S-21 constituted the backdrop to the several NGOs which are attempting to bring some sense of justice, reconciliation and even peace to a culture of silence that yearns to be broken. Our visit to the Center for Peace and Conflict Studies began with a much welcomed and in-depth historical background of the conflict and subsequently touched on a critical insight about the Khmer culture, namely the important role of symbolism. Once you can understand what symbolism means to the people you can understand that what from an objective point of view might look like a disconnect from history, is in actuality peacebuilding at the grassroots level - a la Khmer.

Not realizing my own sense of ignorance, I walked in with my own notions of what peacebuilding should look like and was taken back once I heard Emma talk about how the Cambodians were slowly but surely finding creative methods to reconcile their past. I tried to take this perspective with me when we went to visit the tribunals. The tribunals as a concept, however, proved to be a point of contention, not only among the Khmer people, but among our group as well. The last question to the Court Officer (who was delivering the presentation about the tribunals) asked whether, in his personal opinion, the tribunal would bring justice? He replied by saying that the tribunals would bring fair justice, but not perfect justice.

Statements like these, so simple yet powerful, remain etched in my memory promising to make a permanent home. They begin to define and break down what continues to be a largely complicated conflict into fragments - each with its own truth, justice and story to tell....