Looking to the future: Justice and reconciliation in Cambodia
Aug 31, 2009
As my plane touched down in Cambodia almost a month ago, I was prepared to witness the detrimental affects that genocide had on the country. Two weeks of classes prior to my arrival made me expect the worst. Ready to walk into Cambodia circa 1979, I imagined Phnom Penh as I had seen it in pictures; a desolate city with blank, desperate expressions upon the faces of all of its war weary inhabitants, bodies lying on the side of the road, bomb shells littering the countryside. To my surprise, Phnom Penh was a noisy, bustling city packed with people and motorcycles speeding by. The people on those motorcycles mostly looked happy, with their families and loved ones enjoying an evening ride. Although poverty is all around, the city seems to overcome this with the bustling activity of its inhabitants and the fixed smiles painted on their faces. I realized that I was no longer in a country enveloped in a culture of fear and constant war; it was clear to me that a new dawn was rising in Cambodia, and that the youthful and motivated population were ready to pick up the pieces of its shattered past.
Although Cambodia has come a long way since the nightmare of the Khmer Rouge, it still faces many issues that continue to hinder its development and the vitality of its people. One of the major issues facing Cambodia today is how to continue the transition towards justice and reconciliation in a post-genocidal society. Thirty years after the complete obliteration of modern Cambodian society and the death of one-fourth of the population, Cambodia must strike a balance between facing the past and looking hopefully towards the future. After talking with several survivors of Pol Pot’s genocidal regime, it became clear that in order to move forward, the country must adopt two models of transitional justice: restorative and retributive justice.