Thursday, March 18, 2010

Khmer Rouge Tribunal vs. Karmic Justice

When my mother — who saved me and four siblings from starvation under the Khmer Rouge in 1976 — passed away in October 2009 at the age of 73, I realized that for her justice delayed had become justice denied. (I’m embarrassed to admit it, but the words “justice delayed is justice denied” had never really sunk in until my mother’s passing.)

As an observant Buddhist, however, my mother probably had the last word. She always said that no matter what happened to the Khmer Rouge leadership in their current lifetime, Karmic justice would prevail in the next: They would be reborn as cockroaches.

I am certain that this belief has helped millions of survivors cope with the reality that, after more than three decades since the fall of the Khmer Rouge, not a single leader has been held to account.

Indeed, Cambodians will largely be yawning when the Khmer Rouge tribunal, known formally as the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia and jointly organized with the United Nations, issues its first verdict, on the guilt or innocence of Kaing Guek Eav, widely known as Comrade Duch.

The man who headed S-21, a torture center to which an estimated 16,000 people were sent and where less than a dozen survived, confessed his crimes seven years before the tribunal started, saying: “My confession is rather like Saint Paul’s. I’m the chief of sinners.”

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