It is encouraging to me to hear the perspective of other, younger Khmer citizens who are investigating our country’s contemporary history. I value Chum Chandarin’s point of view. Today I will introduce this thoughtful young man and share his view of our country’s past.
Chandarin was born in 1980, a year after Vietnamese troops seized Phnom Penh. His late father had been a military police officer under Lon Nol; his mother, a school teacher. The family fled the new rulers. From 1981 to 1993, they lived at Site B refugee camp at the Khmer-Thai border, where Chandarin attended primary school and his father joined the Free Khmer Sereika.
Repatriated in 1993, Chandarin finished secondary school and went on to earn a bachelor’s in education at The Royal University of Phnom Penh. In 2004, he attended Indonesia’s State University in Yogyakarta, earning a master’s in education. He has been a teacher of English and a senior lecturer at the University of Cambodia.
In 2014, the Tempus Public Foundation and Stipendium Hungaricum Scholarship Programme provided Chandarin the opportunity to pursue a doctorate in political science and public policy at the National University of Public Service in Budapest, Hungary.
He translated award-winning cinematographer Ellen Grant’s documentary film, “Cyber-Democracy: Cambodia, Kafka’s Kingdom” into Khmer.
Chandarin has researched and written about his interest in the impact of the Khmer Rouge Tribunal, whether it has provided the Khmer people with justice, peace and reconciliation since the brutal reign of Pol Pot. He organized “semi-structured interviews and focus group discussions” among 20 young academics … that resulted in his article, “Transitional Justice in Cambodia: Whose Goals to Achieve?”
Chandarin sees a history of “poor management and leadership” and a “corrupt patronage system” over centuries at the root of Cambodia’s political dysfunction. Western colonialism sparked Vietnam’s creation of the Indochinese Communist Party, which gave birth to variously named communist parties in Cambodia.
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“Territorial disputes with Vietnam” split the communist factions in Cambodia. Some sided with communist China, others with the ICP in Vietnam. As the Cold War engulfed smaller nations, Prince Sihanouk, Cambodia’s leader, tried unsuccessfully to navigate a neutral course. Overthrown in 1970 by a group that favored a republican form of government, Sihanouk consulted both China and Vietnam and decided to cast his lot with the Khmer Rouge. Thus started the genocide era,” Chandarin says, “that has irrevocably scarred Cambodia.
The Khmer Rouge Tribunal
The KRT is an “obligation to provide some kind of justice to Cambodia,” but “key actors” (Cambodian and foreign) who navigate transitional justice have different agendas while the KRT’s “real goal” remains obscure, according to Chandarin. Chandarin sees the 2003 “compromise” agreement to try only those most responsible for crimes from April 17, 1975, to Jan. 6, 1979, a guarantee that justice will not be served.
Cases he examined prove his point. Head of state Khieu Samphan and National Assembly Chairman Nuon Chea are appealing their convictions. Foreign Minister Ieng Sary and Social Action Minister Ieng Thirith died in 2013 and 2015, respectively. Former naval commander Meas Muth, accused of crimes against humanity, was never arrested, and Khmer Rouge official Yim Tith, accused of the same crimes, listened to the charges and left for home.
Participants in Chandarin’s project view the KRT as a waste of resources, offering no hope of exposing those responsible for the killing fields; nor do they see the judiciary as anything but corrupt.
Khmer people decide
Chandarin sees the KRT as manipulated by domestic and foreign actors whose “implicit” goals trump the interests of the Khmer people. Chandarin posits that justice must be “globally applied and implemented equally, anywhere, every time, with everyone. … Those involved in executing, facilitating, intermediating and linking with the wrongdoing” must be held accountable. If justice is to be traded for peace and reconciliation, the Khmer people must decide. If the KRT is to promote peace and national reconciliation, a “truth committee” should be set up, and Cambodians encouraged to forgive, rather than to forget or fear to remember.
Chandarin thinks a comprehensive school curriculum is needed to catalyze cultural change that will promote the rule of law, sustainable peace and national reconciliation. Buddhism may be useful, he says, but the road is long, the monks are not ready.
Gaffar Peang-Meth, Ph.D., former deputy chief of general staff of the Khmer People’s National Liberation Armed Forces, taught political science at the University of Guam for 13 years. Retired in 2004, he now lives in the U.S. mainland. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article was originally released for publication by the Pacific Daily News
April 29, 2016