For the missionary with the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME), tomorrow’s start of the first trial of a Khmer Rouge leader is an opportunity to talk about Cambodia, a country where he has been working over the past nine years.
Kaing Guek Eav, aka Comrade Duch, will be the first leader to appear before the tribunal on charges of “crimes against humanity” for his role in running the infamous S-21 Prison from 1975 and 1979, a place that where all sorts of crimes were committed including torture, rape and more than a hundred executions a day.
Sadly for the PIME missionary, “the rhetoric of justice prevails over justice itself.” In his opinion there is no real “political will” to seriously look into the past.
Such lack of interest is widespread. Other than for a chance to go on an outing, the kids he takes to S-21 Prison are not that interested in knowing what actually happened in there. For them “rhetoric is more important than justice” because they are “permanently distrustful of government institutions and agencies which for them are corrupt.”
“Khmer people would rather forget than deal with old rancour,” Father Caccaro said. “They tend not to trust one another; mutual trust among them is chronically wanting,” he explained.
Never the less, rehashing the horrors of the past and reiterating one’s status as a “victim” is an “easy solution since today’s problems like corruption, lack of trust in the authorities or the justice system, and belief that those with money always win can be always blamed on the past.” In the end for the PIME missionary, there is no “political will” to shed light on Khmer Rouge crimes.
“Official propaganda whitewashes the present leadership of any responsibility,” he said.
Ultimately only the “five currently on trial—Kaing Guek Eav, Khieu Samphan, Ieng Sary, Ieng Thirith and Nuon Chea—will pay.”
”If anything good is coming out of all this is the upgrading of the archives as a result of the various inquests,” he noted. Also it is good that “an attempt has been made to come to grips with this dark chapter in Cambodian history.”
As for the Catholic Church, it has launched several educational projects. However, they must be boosted if we want to raise awareness among people about the need to improve “educational standards and attendance levels.”
At the same time though, if “faith in Christ is a reason for profound reconciliation,” then the Church must abandon its “welfare-oriented” approach in favour of a “cultural debate” about the Pol Pot era and the current phase in the country’s history.