Today’s convictions of Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan brought relief and a sense of closure for many survivors of the Khmer Rouge regime. Thirty-five years after the downfall of the Khmer Rouge, these senior leaders have finally been sentenced to life imprisonment for their brutal crimes. Fifteen years ago, I surveyed a cross-section of Cambodians about their opinions on accountability for the Khmer Rouge. For many interviewees, international criminal trials were important not only to ensure the legitimacy of the process, but also to ensure that the international community, which had let Cambodia down so many times, was finally focusing its attention on the atrocities Cambodians had suffered.
Today is a moment to reflect on that suffering and mourn with Cambodians for their losses. But it is also a time to remember that the struggle for justice in Cambodia continues. Among many others, my friend Kalyanee Mam continues that fight, making documentary films that expose the ongoing struggles Cambodians face in protecting their land and way of life from expropriation and corrupt, cronyistic development. Her most recent film, “A Threat to Cambodia’s Sacred Forests“, featured as an “Op-Doc” in last week’s New York Times, details the experience of just one community standing up to such a threat.
In the words of my dear colleague Youk Chhang, Executive Director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia, “We knew that the court would not resolve everything.” It is but a first step in a much longer battle for equality and democracy in Cambodia. Let us hope that the international community can sustain its attention to Cambodia, whose civil society is in dire need of support in addressing the deep-rooted problems created by the destruction of the Khmer Rouge regime and subsequent decades of corrupt governance.