Saturday, June 23, 2007
Postcard from Phnom Penh
The big news from Cambodia is that the national and international judges on the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia have finally agreed on internal rules (available here), enabling the prosecutions to move forward at long last. After meeting with ECCC officials on Wednesday, I went yesterday to the Choeung Ek killing fields, just outside Phnom Penh. The simple memorial, which holds 8,985 skulls of Cambodians murdered by the Khmer Rouge, is overwhelming; it defies description and language. Sophary, a young Cambodian law graduate who has accompanied me to the site, tells me that on her first visit to the memorial, the tears simply rolled down her face; she could not control them. Set in a lush and verdant field with butterflies flitting past, it is hard on this Cambodian summer day to imagine the evil acts perpetrated at Choeung Ek. More importantly, it is impossible to conceive of an appropriate response to this senseless violence; the tourists snapping pictures of the bones seem no less equipped to address the killings than our sacred international criminal law. On Sophary's second visit to the memorial, she brought a group of Buddhist nuns, who stood in a circle and recited chants for the souls of the dead. To me, this simple act represents a crucial element lacking in a purely legal response to the violence: an element of locally grounded and rehabilitative spirituality. Will the ECCC be able to speak so eloquently and thoughtfully to Cambodia and her ghosts?