It’s difficult trying to create space where conflict can be resolved, past trauma and injustice can be addressed and where trust can be developed.

Cambodia is one country where Cord strives to see peace become a reality – a country where a culture of silence prevails; violence, corruption and intimidation are commonplace; where leadership is often unaccountable.

Recently (February 2017), the “Extraordinary Chambers in the Court of Cambodia” (ECCC) dropped charges in Case 004/1. “Grandma” Chaem (now in her seventies) had been accused of orchestrating the deaths of up to 40,000 who were killed for failing to meet Khmer Rouge agricultural production targets or perished trying to meet them.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen was himself a Khmer Rouge general before falling out with Pol Pot, fleeing to Vietnam, and returning as part of a liberating army. He has been in power off and on ever since, for almost 40 years. He claims that the ECCC should prosecute only a handful of senior leaders.

But this is not a political opinion piece. Yes, the story reminds us about the horror of the genocide, the necessity of accountability for crimes against humanity, the inappropriateness of government involvement in an independent judiciary.

It also teaches us two further lessons. Things we can still change. Things that you can support us with today.

Beyond the brutal and direct violence perpetrated by the Khmer Rouge, huge numbers of people – including the thousands whose deaths for which Grandma Chaem had been charged – died from starvation and exhaustion, from the sheer strain of hard labour on an empty stomach in a desperate, futile and ultimately fatal bid to meet harsh and unrealistic targets set by the government. This is what can happen when the government sees itself as rights-holder and considers its citizens duty-bearers. We must turn this on its head.

Grandma Chaem has told reporters that she wanted to live in peace. Yet living every day in defiance, or guilt, or fear, or wilful ignorance, is not peaceful. And even though it is nearly four decades since the Khmer Rouge’s reign of terror, peace will not be possible for individuals or society when questions are left unanswered, loved ones unburied, anger unresolved, truth and accountability absent.

Our work in Asia and Africa continues today. For example, Cord has trained over a thousand human rights defenders and members of community groups in nonviolent actions to help the most marginalised communities to access basic human rights afforded to them by international law. Please donate to our 2017 Lent appeal today and help us to continue taking practical steps towards peaceful and inclusive communities.


You can see an example of our work with human rights defenders here.