In prosecuting only senior Khmer Rouge leaders, the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia may leave many of the crimes committed under the regime unresolved, a prominent author and journalist said Tuesday.
“One of the things that bothers me about this process is how much good will the tribunal do?” Philip Short, who wrote the acclaimed 2004 biography “Pol Pot: Anatomy of a Nightmare,” said in a lecture in Phnom Penh.
“There is no doubt that those who will be before the tribunal did terrible things. The question is, how many are to be tried?” asked Short, a British national and former BBC correspondent.
The law establishing the ECCC limits its jurisdiction to “senior leaders” and those “most responsible.”
But Cambodia’s genocide resulted in large part from the historic, social and geographic forces acting on the country, which did not apply just to those at the top, Short said.
The rise of Cambodia’s neighbors and the country’s historical decline created the existential fears that lead to the bloody excesses of the regime, he said.
“When you have that kind of a past glory followed by a long decline it leads to paranoia, and I think that a lot of what happened in the 20th century in Cambodia should be seen in terms of fear, fear about survival, fear about extinction,” Short said.
In an interview, Short said a truth and reconciliation process like South Africa’s would be an alternative to the tribunal.
“It works best when the killings are carried out at all levels of a country,” he said, adding of the tribunal: “I’m not prepared to say it’s a complete waste of time but I suspect that’s what the final result will be.”
Helen Jarvis, ECCC chief of public affairs, said Cambodia and the UN had felt that the Khmer Rouge should be tried and that prosecutions should be restricted to senior leaders. “Nobody believes that the judicial process being undertaken at the ECCC is the sole treatment for Cambodia’s wounds,” Jarvis wrote in an e-mail.
“Many other efforts have been made in the past, and are continuing, to seek the truth and to advance reconciliation. Furthermore, it is hoped that the ECCC will itself contribute to that broader process,” she said.