International Justice

CJ354 Endicott College

Why Anniversaries Could Be Damaging: Cambodia and the Khmer Rouge

In the Foreign Policy article by Justine Drennan, she discusses how April 17th, 1975 which commemorates Phnom Penh’s fall to the Khmer Rouge is a date that represents just one point in an ongoing disaster brought about not only by the Khmer Rouge but also France. She goes on to say that in having an anniversary, it can fade the context of the issue since it only focuses on one aspect of the atrocity. In having a strict timeline that has clean dates as to when a tragedy started and ended it can “help conceal the events that led to them”. It is interesting to think about timelines in the context of tribunals and truth commissions. I agree with Drennan’s argument in that timelines do seem to constrict the rhetoric surrounding tragedies however I also find them necessary in order for the mechanisms of international justice to work. It would be rather hard to have a tribunal without time limits. Drennan recognizes that having an anniversary such as April 17th does help victims and the general population to memorialize the experience. But she continues to argue that anniversaries “draw too clear a line between those considered guilty and the rest” which is problematic when considering atrocities including the one in Cambodia which isn’t so black and white when it comes to identifying those who are guilty or not. Anniversaries serve to encapsulate “the suffering in a neat span of time” which ultimately can lead to belittling the roles of different actors in the face of the atrocities committed.

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2 responses to “Why Anniversaries Could Be Damaging: Cambodia and the Khmer Rouge

  1. swashington April 19, 2015 at 8:16 pm

    While I see Drennan’s argument that creating strict timelines can minimize the horror of the conflict to just those specific times, I believe that there is important healing power offered by creating a timeline. By establishing a specific end date, victims are able to separate the traumatic events of the past from the healing that needs to be done and in the present and the future. Of course, many times the atrocities endured by victims extend into the present, but with no acknowledgement of the past there will never be a clear future completely separate from those past events. I don’t agree that anniversaries themselves distinguish between the victims and the perpetrators because the opportunity to reflect and memorialize the past is a right given to both groups, and both groups are free to translate for themselves the meaning of the events for them personally, outside of the defined scope of the anniversary. By limiting what an anniversary means to just collective or shared memorialization, I feel like Drennan is neglecting to recognize the individuality of the people involved in the actual events.

  2. ah2017intjustice April 20, 2015 at 12:55 pm

    Drennan makes a very interesting argument. Anniversary commemorations can be valuable for victims on an individual level, but reducing conflicts to a strict timeline has drawbacks. I think it is important to be aware of the ways governments can exploit events such as a conflict’s anniversary to draw a bright line between the atrocities of the past and the current administration – whether or the new administration has taken substantive steps to remedy the grievances and inequalities that may have started the conflict. When large scale human rights violations take place, it is important to move forward, but merely calling a period of time “post-conflict” is not enough. In states such as Rwanda, although the country is stable, the authoritarian government that has taken form post-genocide should not deny that reforms that are still necessary. Additionally, in cases such as South Africa, the legacy of racial inequality is rooted long before the official institution of apartheid and has persists in many forms post-apartheid. Acknowledgement of the history of a conflict, including the conditions that created the conflict before its official “start date,” as well as the progress that is still necessary “post conflict” is crucial.

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