Return of the Khmer Rouge

Among the most evil world “leaders” of the past century – notable creeps such as Adolph Hitler, Adi Amin, and Saddam Hussein – Cambodia’s Pol Pot ranks as one of the most despised. Although Pol Pot died in 1998, and his much-feared Khmer Rouge (dubbed “the most lethal regime of the twentieth century”) comrades have since slithered away into obscurity, their evil deeds have not been forgotten.

It is estimated that under Khmer Rouge rule – from 1975 to 1979 – nearly two million Cambodians died due to execution, starvation or exhaustion from forced labor. By contrast, the US bombing of Cambodia from 1969 to 1972 – “collateral” from the Vietnam War - killed over 600,000 people. (For an insightful look at the role that the USA – particularly Henry Kissinger and the Nixon administration - played in the Khmer Rouge’s rise to power and the destruction of Cambodia, read the excellent Sideshow by William Shawcross.) Even after being disposed by a Vietnamese invasion in early 1979 (an occupation that lasted a decade), the Khmer Rouge kept fighting government forces and continued to hold a seat in the UN until 1991 when a truce was signed. Among the many countries that still recognized the Khmer Rouge as the official representative of Cambodia was the United States. During the Reagan era in the 1980s, the US government blocked efforts to put Khmer Rouge leaders on trial, and refused to label the KR atrocities as “genocide.”

In Cambodia today many high-ranking KR officials are still alive and well; living prosperously and securely in huge homes, driving SUVs around town, and remaining insulated from the widespread poverty that still engulfs the beautiful but dysfunctional country. Despite many years of attempts, a trial of surviving KR leaders has still not materialized. A tribunal has been authorized by both the UN and the Cambodian government, but funds will have to come from donor nations. Thus far, heavyweights such as Australia and Japan have promised money, but the United States has declined to contribute. There is serious talk of a trial commencing this year, but before that can happen many details have to be ironed out; foremost among them are which ex-Khmer Rouge officials will be put on trial. The tribunal will be comprised of both Cambodians and foreigners, with judges expected to be Cambodian.

And many see that as a big problem. In a high-profile court case last month two Cambodian men were convicted of murdering an important union leader, even though no forensic evidence was presented and no eyewitnesses testified. That verdict, say some, was unfair, and left many in the international community wondering if Cambodia is capable of holding an impartial and credible trial. The Cambodian court system has a history of being - in the words of one observer - “weak, corrupt and susceptible to political influence.” Thus, the chances of holding a legitimate and satisfactory genocide trial look very bleak indeed.


John in Atlanta said...

There you go shaming me into keeping up with you. Not with one but with two excellent posts!

Bangkok Bertha said...

Well, hell; you were painting and repairing things all weekend. I just sit here in my shop and read books! Gotta do something to keep my blood flowing!