Theary Seng: Cambodian Killing Fields & The Politics Of Justice

Theary Seng is a journalist, lawyer and writer chronicling Cambodian politics; her book “Daughter Of The Killing Fields” will be out from Seven Stories Press this year.  She was seven years old when detained in the concentration camp, detention camp and killing fields of Boeung Rai in eastern Cambodia.  She writes of her job as a porter for those sick and waiting summary execution.

Representing a new ‘un-buddhist’ view of the U.N. ‘Extraordinary Chamber’s Mission’ trial of Khmer Rouge leaders responsible for the genocide that has engulfed Cambodian life with the recent trial and guilty verdict of Kaing Guek Eav known as ‘Comrade Duch’.  Duch was responsible for a single detention center named ‘Tuol Sleng’ along with one killing field named ‘Choeung Ek).  Seng is angry at how contemporary Cambodians view the trial and verdict of a single man as scapegoat replacing the development of real political governance in a nation surrounded by rapidly growing political economies.  Absent such political and economic recovery, she considers the U.N. trial a failure that has created irreversible cynicism in a society already fractured by fear.

There are very interesting comparative economies with European cultures that thrived after the demise of the German Third Reich.   How can Cambodia recover?  All around her are nations recovering themselves from their Marxian history in developing market based solutions to wealth creation.  Cambodia, being firmly wedded to Buddhism, seems destined to remain poor and politically fractured.  Theary Seng chronicles how we arrived here.

She has written how the guilt verdict of 35 years imprisonment for acts of political murder and genocide amount to 11 hours of imprisonment for each person he slaughtered.

Ironically, it was the Vietnamese whom invaded Cambodia ending the Khmer Rouge regime in January of 1979 permitting such genocidal maniacs to wander the countryside with impunity thanks to Cold War rivalries among other communist regimes.  Beijing supported the Khmer Rouge whom it financed financially and militarily.  The Soviet Union supported the Vietnamese occupation of Cambodia.  The United States backed a coalition government of Khmer Rouge and non-communist Cambodian forces with Prince Norodom Sihanouk as its nominal head.  With the collapse of the Soviet Union, Cambodia reached a peace agreement in 1991 with former Khmer Rouge members, but it would take until June 2003 for the U.N. and Cambodia government to establish the Extraordinary Chamber.  Just four years ago the U.N. along with Cambodia began to try the leaders of the mass murder of 1975-1979.  Theary Sung reminds us that the capital of Phnom Penh was not the only crime scene for there were over 200 detention centers with thousands of killing fields across the country.  Most can easily understand the cynicism emanating from most Cambodians.

Perhaps the most telling political event here is the absence of leadership among the U.N. over a thirty year period?  Cambodia was freed from such genocide in 1979!  What accounts for the long absence?  Clearly Cambodian culture is so inculcated by passive Buddhism it simply does not have alternative political culture engendering and pursuing political justice similar to what Germany and Japan experienced under U.S. Regency after the end of WWII.

We must keep in mind that Buddhism’s inability to craft a distinct politics is perhaps the single most responsible cultural import permitting Cambodia to become a radical incubus for Marxism.

About William Holland

Systematic Theologian/International Relations
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