The importance of studying genocide

Gathering evidence after genocide is crucial to ensure that justice is served, according to experts.

A July 24, 2019 commentary in the Union of Catholic Asian News (UCAN) discussed the genocide research of Craig Etcheson, a visiting scientist at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Etcheson, a fellow at the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, has spent many years studying the Cambodian genocide of 1975-79, in which about two million people—roughly a quarter of Cambodia’s population—died at the hands of the Khmer Rouge, a regime that ruled Cambodia under the leadership of Marxist dictator Pol Pot.

From 2006 to 2012, as chief of investigations for the Office of Co-Prosecutors at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia—the special court aimed at prosecuting the leaders of the Khmer Rouge—Etcheson helped document the locations of mass graves. He has written two books about the Cambodian genocide and its aftermath, and a third is due out in October.

“For me it’s always been about the victims,” he said. “For others it’s about abstractions, establishing legal precedents and defining terms like genocide, instead of addressing issues like ‘these were once actual living human beings’.”

Etcheson said he is impressed with the many young Cambodian scholars who are now on the cutting edge of genocide research. “These young researchers are properly trained and proving themselves to be worthy successors to the first generation of foreign scholars of the Khmer Rouge … who could potentially make contributions to the study of other genocides,” he said.

Read the UCAN commentary: Of justice and genocide