It was very fortunate of me to get accepted into this Khmer Rouge Tribunal Fellowship Program where I have learnt from trauma to the history around the Democratic Kampuchea regime known as the Khmer Rouge regime, and how to provide justice and reconciliation in Cambodia. This is the third week I’ve been taking the course, and late this month, all the 22 fellowship participants will travel altogether to Germany and Netherlands for amazing study tours. I can’t wait to travel again.
Regarding to the KR regime, there have been very many questions posed about how Saloth Sar aka Pol Pot came into power, and how this guy could stir up the whole country between 1975-1979. It was not less known about his intention and motivation, though. Many books about the regime and people involved have been written up for the next generation to read on. As for me, I have now had nearly 20 books about the Khmer Rouge to read. Feel free to contact me and borrow the book. (Return is a must :-).)
One of the urgent issues to ponder about is how the Khmer Rouge leaders could indoctrinate and brainwash hundreds of thousands of people to be so cruel to city dwellers, torture and kill them. These young people were incited to hate the new people or city people… No doubt that young people are very easy to persuade to do anything against their conscience. Hundreds of the Khmer Rouge soldiers who entered the Phnom Penh city in April 17, 1975 were these young boys dressed in dark green, moving house-to-house. Four to five hours after they arrived, they started to mobilize around the city and told people to march toward the countryside, according to a recalling of a Cambodian survivor whom I talked to a week ago.
I had this fruitful talk with the fellowship program trainers. We went around topics such as the documentary called “S-21, the killing machine”, and “Enemies of the People”. In the latter, two perpetrators confessed their horrible crimes, killing people and drinking human gall bladders. Thirty years ago, they were of course young men who loyally followed Angkar (what the Khmer Rouge wanted to be addressed as.) Why were they so brutal? What was in their mind before and after they killed? I was overwhelmed about the situation, and was furious at those who killed blindly. Yet, my trainer gave me a food for thought. For young people, when they are isolated from their parents and relatives, from their communities, they start to feel detached with new people. Even more, Pol Pot incited them all to look over each other’s soldier (mistrust and paranoid). Their emotional attachment and personal communication were completely cut off. Therefore, they (tried to) felt numb while killing. They could not feel your pain considering survival of the fittest or “most cruel”. Most of the KR soldiers were children and young people. Children especially are like a blank sheet of paper which when a drop of black ink drops on, absorbs and does not wash away. Likewise, it was very easy for Pol Pot to indoctrinate these young to commit terrible crimes against humanity.
I was asking myself the same question. If I were an uneducated 12 or 13 year-old countryboy, if I were mobilized to other parts of the country, leaving my parents and relatives behind, and taught not to trust anyone but report on him or her about their mistakes, would I be able to resist death threat imposed upon me by Angkar? Would I dare to kill myself but spare hundreds of life in front of me? These children were taught to feel like a robot, and that was automatic to go on like that. I watched a 25-minute documentary about this Cambodian former child soldier who admitted to (getting involved in) killing people. It was a terrible inhumane mistake Pol Pot and his gang ever committed: killing people (to death) and kill people (alive).
I am not saying that those who were young and killed lives should not be held accountable. I am not sure if I would be different if I were in their shoes. Crimes are to be prosecuted of course; however, the ECCC has been so selective in their choices to try only the senior leaders or “most responsible” ones. For former child or young Khmer Rouge soldiers, there should be a legal system that spares them only partly because they were too young to resist. The most responsible people were educated but good-for-nothing like the former Khmer Rouge leaders