How Long Should We Remember the Crimes of the Past?


The alleged Nazi war criminal John Demjanjuk has been extradited to Germany to face trial as accessory to the murder of 29,000 Jewish people during WWII and his American citizenship has been revoked. In Hong Kong, pro-democracy MPs were outraged when it was claimed that most Chinese people had moved on from the Tiananmen Square massacre (with the 20th anniversary due to be marked in a few days). Meanwhile, celebrity scientist Pornthip Rojanasunant is to accompany navy divers to investigate the cargo containers at the bottom of the sea off Chonburi and which are said by some to be stuffed full of human remains. It has been claimed that the bodies were hidden there by the military after the massacres following the 1992 coup.

How long should people remember the crimes of the past? For how long should people he held responsible?

Many countries have statutes of limitations covering various offences, primarily on the basis that it discourages the over lengthy prolongation of court cases against people (who are or at least should be, after all, innocent until proven guilty). These statutes vary in length and are generally not applicable in very serious crimes or acts of violence.

We have seen recently the problems that can be caused when justice is not served, no matter how far ago the original acts may have taken place. At a wedding in Turkey, dozens of people were murdered apparently, it is said, as a result of a long-standing vendetta between families (I have no idea who may or may not be guilty of any of these events). The same level of resentment and hatred might build up in Thai people, it is reasonable to assume, who have not received justice from the numerous massacres perpetrated by the Thai military over the last few decades. Perhaps the same level of resentment and rage might not occur in Thailand for ‘cultural’ factors – the different nature of the state-mandated official religion and appropriate forms of behaviour, for example.

Even so, there is a lot of unhappiness that has festered so much throughout the nation that it is not surprising if it manifests itself from time to time. Unfortunately, there is not much chance of the people culpable ever permitting the law to be changed so that they might be held accountable for their crimes.

The most recent military coup was in 2006.