November 16, 2005

Former U.N. Rep Recalls Genocide in Cambodia

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Benny Widyono, former U.N. peacekeeping representative to Cambodia, led a roundtable discussion on genocide in Warren Hall last night.

Widyono spent the majority of his professional life working on genocide awareness in Cambodia, where over a million people were killed by the communist Khmer Rouge regime between 1975 and 1979. However, he has faced tremendous opposition from the international community, and has found many international bodies to be non-receptive to the atrocities that took place in Cambodia.

“Even after the Khmer Rouge government was removed from power, it was still the only government recognized by the United Nations because the new government of Cambodia was established with the help of Vietnam, and therefore the U.S. would not recognize it,” Widyono said.

“When the new Cambodian government attempted to put the Khmer Rouge on trial, it received no international recognition and could not go on.”

Widyono also touched on the heavy usage of child soldiers by the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, and discussed their effectiveness in murdering others. Throughout this part of the discussion, Widyono stood in front of a slide showing three children, no more than seven years old, carrying large machine guns and grenades.

“The Khmer Rouge was so effective in brainwashing children,” Widyono said, “that many children even betrayed their own parents and had them killed.”

After Widyono’s brief commentary, Alex Haber ’08, president of STARS, opened up the room to dialogue on the different aspects of genocide and demonstrated some of the difficulties in characterizing genocide.

“In Darfur, many women are giving birth to the men who are perpetrating the genocide there. Genocide doesn’t have to be killing, it can be mass rape aimed at literally destroying one race or ethnic group, or an abduction and re-education of children,” Haber said, adding that “the actions taken against Native American children, when the American government kidnapped them and sent them to boarding schools where they learned to be ‘white’ can be considered an act of genocide.”

As the discussion continued, the question of what students, especially Cornell students, can do to help prevent genocide and bring justice to those who have committed genocide remained to be answered.

Prof. Muna Ndulo, law, who took part in the discussion, expressed his feelings on what students can do.

“Awareness. We must continue to make countries aware of what is going on,” he said. “It is a very slow process, but one which we must continue to work on. We must continue to highlight all campaigns of genocide, no matter how small.”

Genocide Awareness Week will continue with events through Friday, including an event today on the Arts Quad entitled, “The Human Faces of Genocide,” which will display pictures of people from many cultures affected by genocide.

The event, sponsored by STARS, Cornell’s holocaust and genocide awareness group, was part of a week-long program to educate students on genocide.

Archived article by Josh Harris
Sun Contributor