HRWG Newsletter, February 2017


Trudy Huskamp Peterson

Date Added:

20 March 2017

Grandma Chaem was listening to Buddhist talk radio when the journalists found her. The case against her had just been dismissed by the Extraordinary Chambers of the Courts of Cambodia, where she had been charged with responsibility for mass murder, enslavement and crimes against humanity.  Court observers and scholars were convinced the evidence was solid, but no matter:  Im Chaen’s neighbors in her town,  want to know none of this. The New York Times wrote, “Villagers emphasized that an important part of local culture was never to pry into other people’s pasts. ‘Everyone knows Grandma Chaem, knows that she is living in the village, but we don’t know her background, what she did,’” said a village man. The archives of the Court, assuming they are protected and preserved, will tell the story to those who do want to know.

It is easy to dismiss the concerns of someone living in a Cambodian village where knowing too much could lead to disappearance.  But many people living in safe places don’t want to know, either.  The famous Austrian writer Peter Handke went to the 2006 funeral of Slobodan Milosevic, the Serbian president who died while on trial at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, accused of genocide and war crimes. Handke, who calls himself a hater of history, delivered a speech at the funeral, saying, “I don’t know the truth.” And yet the broadcasts from the court and the archives of the ICTY, including the massive background material that was accumulated, make knowing possible. 

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