Journey of seeking justice in killing fields


Shwetha Pramod

Human rights activist Theary C Seng’s talk with journalist Parsa Venkateswara Rao Jr witnessed discussions on the traumatic memoirs, role of documentation, significance of public forums and effects of geopolitics in Cambodia in relation with the Khmer Rouge.

Theary C Seng and Parsa Venkateswara Rao Jr at MBIFL20

When human rights activist Theary C Seng recalled the memoirs of Khmer Rouge regime between 1975 to 1979 in Cambodia, the traumatic accounts of the genocide and the way the nation overcame the ordeal might have kept the audience thinking about the various perceptions of justice.

According to Seng, a human rights activist and survivor of Cambodia's Khmer Rouge regime in the 1970s, justice is an elusive term. Speaking at the 3rd edition of Mathrubhumi International Festival of Letters on Khmer Rouge and Perceptions of Justice, Theary said that most of the Cambodians including herself are comfortable with symbolic justice.

Being a survivor from ''the Killing Fields'' who had to live through the trauma herself after losing her parents in the genocide, Theary said "when mass crimes occur, there could be an effort to try everyone with bloody hands but it cannot be done in the Cambodian context". In her opinion, there has to be a balance between peace and justice.

Her talk with journalist Parsa Venkateswara Rao Jr witnessed discussions on the traumatic memoirs, role of documentation, significance of public forums and effects of geopolitics in Cambodia in relation with the Khmer Rouge.

The journalist chronologically pointed out similar genocides that took place in the 20th and 21st century. The talk further discussed about the trouble she had faced while initiating an effective legal process which brought people guilty of the genocide to trial decades after the crime.

Theary said most Cambodians know that they cannot try every Khmer Rouge with bloody hands as it would cross tens of thousands who killed the two million citizens in the genocide. She reiterated the relevance of symbolic justice as it is the best in Cambodian context while dealing with an incident which took place 30 years ago. "The two types of evidence, human evidence and documents were very sparse", she added.

Theary says there are different types of justice in different contexts as it is based on history. When it comes to Khmer Rouge, she detailed how expression became a very powerful form of justice. "I was very keen in allowing individuals to tell their stories undiluted as independently, without forcing them, giving them a safe space because their narratives were important".

The Khmer Rouge tribunal has a significant role among international law. "It was the first time in the international sphere where it tried to create a space for victims to be his or her own civil party and it was never tried in the international sphere before. The tribunal wanted to give direct voice to the victims instead of a prosecutor who represented them, she said.

She talked about the public forums in Cambodia which saw victims and perpetrators directly engaging the top UN officials. The top hopes of the Khmer rouge tribunal was that it could generate documents, she pointed out.

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THEARY C SENG
MBIFL 2020
MATHRUBHUMI INTERNATIONAL FESTIVAL OF LETTERS

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