Monday, July 26, 2010

Cambodia Tribunal: 19 Years for 16k Dead

In my genocide class last semester we learned all about the Khmer Rouge regime and their efforts to turn Cambodia into an agrarian collective. The rounding up of people in the capital city of Phnom Penh and moving them out to the countryside was done in such a way where, threatened by the intelligentsia, Pol Pot's regime targeted anyone wearing eye glasses, for their ideology dictated that eye glasses were a sign of having smarts.

The decision today to finally hold one member of Pol Pot's regime accountable for his crimes is a monumental one, coming 31 years after the fall of the regime. It continues the process that was started with Nuremberg, but with fits and starts in between, to hold accountable those who have committed conscience-shocking crimes against their own people. With the advent of the ICC, founded only in 1998 and operationalized only in 2002, it is thought that such atrocities will become less frequent given the court's presence as a major pillar in deterrence, assuming there exists such a thing, which was an argument we had in my Transitional Justice class (what a great field!).

While it's possible to view the decision today as a victory in holding those who have committed unthinkable crimes accountable, 19 years for 16,000 dead gives victims and heirs to victims much less to celebrate. At 67 years old, it is possible that Duch can live to walk out of prison a free man.

In short, Duch was convicted of the crimes against humanity of persecution on political grounds, extermination, enslavement, imprisonment, torture, one instance of rape, and other inhumane acts. He was convicted of the war crimes of willful killing, torture, willfully causing great suffering and injury, depriving civilians and prisoners of war of the right to a fair trial, and the unlawful confinement of civilians. 

19 years for that?

More here:

Post-Judgment CTM Interview with Theary Seng from Cambodia Tribunal Monitor on Vimeo.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Kosovo's Independence

This Fall, in addition to moving the Peace Corps process forward, I'll also be seeking acceptance into the New School's International Field Program. They offer programs in some 8 or so countries, with this year being the first time in Kosovo. This one-time autonomous province of Serbia, considered the Serbian "Jerusalem", is some 90% Albanian. Sound familiar?

My hope, being fascinated with all things Europe and specifically the disintegration of the former Yugoslavia, is to gain acceptance into the Kosovo program.

In 2008, Kosovo declared its independence from Serbia and today, the International Court of Justice declared its secession from Serbia legal. Stated here:

"International law does not have an active provision that limits independence declarations, therefore Kosovo's declaration of independence is not in breach of international law," the court president, Hisashi Owada of Japan, said.

Obviously, Serbia does not agree with this opinion. Also found on,

"all state organs would analyze the ICJ decision", while his emissaries would be dispatched over the weekend to 55 countries state worldwide, where they will deliver his personal message.

"Serbia will never recognize the unilaterally declared independence of Kosovo, since we believe that unilateral and ethnically motivated secession is not in line with UN principles," said he.

Some 69 countries have recognized Kosovo's independence, the U.S. being one of them, but Kosovo needs 100 to achieve official statehood status. In contrast, Serbia's rejection is supported by two of the permanent UN Security Council members as well as five of the 27 EU members.

In these articles, Serbia is pledging to resolve the dispute through political means, not through violence. With that said, tensions continue, making it a very compelling place to spend 8 weeks next summer.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Escaping Auschwitz article

I read this article on the Huffington Post today. A compelling story about a Polish prisoner who is able to dress as a German, forge a pass and then walk right out of the camp. While I imagine the reason this story is being told is because it's the July 21th anniversary, but what I have trouble understanding is why is the story being told now, and not earlier? And how does a journalist come across a story like this? Do they put out an ad asking for someone to come forward with a compelling war story? Why now, why not 30 years ago?

Clearly, this story has movie written all over it. But I hope there is no movie, for it would certainly create all sorts of scenes that never happened and distort the truth. Similar to the movie Defiance, where for Hollywood purposes, Zwick took Nehama Tec's book and created scenes that never happened. One prime example is the fight between Tuvia and Zus. It didn't happen, but certain embellishments have to be added for dramatic affect. The problem with exaggerations in the context of the Holocaust is that it runs the risk of feeding the deniers, who will speak up and say "see, we told you this was all a big lie..." We can't have that. So as with all mass atrocities, everything has to be handled with care as relates to how the story is told. Lest we have this happen again.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Jan Karski and the Kosciuszko Foundation

The Great Crusade isn't just about gaining acceptance into the Peace Corps. It's the totality of what makes up the effort to make a career change, one from the doldrums of business to one where the topics discussed are so thought-provoking and inspirational, it depresses me to think just how much longer I have before 'change' can occur.

Today I attended an event at the Kosciuszko Foundation on the Upper East Side about Jan Karski, given that 2010 is the anniversary of his passing. Announced during the panel was a four year commemoration project currently in the works which will honor the heroics of this man during the war. The four year span covers the 10th anniversary of his death whereas 2014 covers the 100th anniversary of his birth.

Under the auspices of the Museum of the History of Polish Jews, the program will entail cooperation between the museum, corporate partners, VIPs such as Bill Clinton, who was a student of Karski's at Georgetown University, and most importantly, an educational component. The latter piece is perhaps the most critical given the dearth of common knowledge out there about who Karski was and what he attempted to accomplish, both among the American public and among the Polish people.

One of the panelists and author of this book, Laurel Leff, discussed at length America's lackluster response to the Holocaust as it was unfolding, both at the government level as well as in the media. Leff's book investigates how the NY Times consistently buried the story of the Holocaust well within the paper, like on page 36 for instance, rather than giving it the coverage it needed to drive outrage and action.

During the Q&A session, I asked if the program would include a formal volunteer program and was told that while the program is still in its infancy, volunteers would be welcome.  Helping to get the word out about Karski and what he stood for, in a world where mass atrocities against minorities are more common than not, is a worthwhile venture.

I was also shocked to hear that in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, one of the largest Polish neighborhoods in the country, there remains a healthy level of anti-Semitism among the Poles living there. This was only one person saying this, so I'll take it with some grain of salt, but suffice it to say, it would be absolutely unforgivable for Poles to come to a city with a large Jewish population and continue to carry with them whatever it is that they think is wrong with the Jewish people. But like I said, it's one person, and it's not like there's anything in the news that suggests tension between Poles and Jews living together in Brooklyn.