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Cambodia & History: Making accountability a reality

There are different ways of holding people and governments to account. For example, there is political accountability when government officials are removed from office because of their decisions, actions or lack of action.

There is financial accountability where debts and credits, assets and liabilities make one person or entity accountable to another. There are also many other forms of liability, ranging from reputation and moral responsibility on the one hand, to criminal prosecution and legal liability on the other.

Admitting that there are various forms of accountability, the general concept of accountability is not a question of "if" but of "when" and "how", and if the opportunity to realise a form of accountability, such as legal accountability, is not present, we should not be restricted in how we hold the regime of the People’s Republic of Korea accountable in other ways for the gross human rights violations and crimes that have been committed.

"For several decades, Cambodia has strived to be accountable for the atrocities committed by the Khmer Rouge regime, and there is no doubt that Cambodia continues to strive for accountability today."

Since 1997, the Documentation Centre of Cambodia has supported not only legal accountability for the crimes of the Khmer Rouge, but also moral accountability and other forms of accountability. Since its creation as an independent civil society organisation in Cambodia, the DC-Cam has strived to become the world’s largest archive of unique historical documents on the genocide committed by the Khmer Rouge regime. Through this collection of documents, artefacts and, most importantly, oral histories, DC-Cam has been able to help raise public awareness of the history of the Khmer Rouge regime.

Education about genocide, education about atrocity crimes or education about gross human rights violations are all forms of accountability that, in many ways, have broader and deeper effects than the prosecution of one or a few individuals responsible for these crimes. Education can offer victims the opportunity to tell their story, which is a form of empowerment for the victim as much as a form of accountability for regimes and leaders. Education can be a means of generating dialogue on unanswered historical questions, and it can be a mechanism not only for responding to crimes that have been committed, but also for preventing the next campaign of atrocities, genocide or gross human rights violations from happening again.

"In this sense, education is not just about justice, but also about prevention.''

But while education is a crucial form of accountability, it is not the only form of non-judicial accountability that Cambodia has pursued. Taking care of the victims of atrocity crimes and gross human rights violations is also an indirect form of accountability. Giving attention and care to people and institutions that are victims of an evil regime invariably helps to shed light on the actions of that regime.

In collaboration with the Royal Government of Cambodia and with the generous support of the U.S. Agency for International Development, DC-Cam has been able to help tens of thousands of survivors of the Khmer Rouge regime with a wide range of support measures tailored to their mental and physical health and well-being.

DC- Cam has helped survivors and their families by providing public health information, transport to clinics and a number of other services and supports. DC- Cam set up a nationwide youth volunteer corps that helped it interview more than 31,000 survivors about their health and wellbeing.

"CamboCorps is a youth volunteering service that will continue to be an excellent programme for survivors. Young people also have the opportunity to learn from survivors, and surveys of survivors provide valuable information on how future projects and activities can better tailor their support to the needs of survivors."

If we are to seek to hold evil regimes accountable for atrocious crimes and gross violations of human rights, we must not let the difficulties we face in implementing one form of accountability limit our efforts to implement other forms of accountability that are immediately achievable. Cambodia has endeavoured to be accountable, but it has not let the difficulties of pursuing criminal responsibility for the genocidal leaders of the Khmer Rouge limit its ability to be accountable in other ways, such as documenting history, translating evidence into formal and informal education, and caring for victims.

In many ways, these forms of accountability respond to the needs of victims and are passed on from one generation to the next, contributing to a culture of prevention.

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