April marks the 30th anniversary of the seizure of power by the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia.
Before being overthrown in December 1978, the Khmer Rouge would be responsible for the deaths of an estimated one-and-a-half million to three-million Cambodians. In line with its Communist totalitarian ideology, the Khmer Rouge regime emptied Cambodia's major cities, forcing residents into the countryside where they lacked food, agricultural implements, and medical care. Tens of thousands starved to death or died of disease. Those who resisted or questioned orders were killed. The Khmer Rouge systematically murdered military and civilian leaders of the former government, as well as Cambodian intellectuals, doctors, teachers, and other professionals.
Those responsible for these atrocities have still not been held accountable. On April 21, the U.S. State Department issued a statement that said:
"The United States believes there must be accountability for these atrocities, and welcomed the agreement between the United Nations and Cambodia to establish the Khmer Rouge Tribunal. For the United States to contribute to this process, we believe, as the U.S. law stipulates, that the tribunal must meet internationally recognized standards of justice. As the formation of the tribunal moves forward, we will engage with the government of Cambodia, the United Nations, and interested countries to achieve this goal."
Sok Sam Oeun is executive director of the Cambodian Defenders Project, a human rights group based in Cambodia. Mr. Sok says without a tribunal, Cambodians born after 1979 may forget the past:
"No one can imagine how serious [the situation was] during the Khmer Rouge. It's not human you know. Reasonable people do not think that something like that happened. That's why it is very hard to make those young people believe. Maybe they think their parents maybe distort information like that."
In Phnom Penh, a former prison has been converted into a museum to document Khmer Rouge atrocities and educate Cambodians and foreigners about this terrible period of Cambodia's history.
Cambodia still faces many challenges, including poverty, lack of a rule of law, and corruption. U.S. State Department deputy spokesman Adam Ereli says that the United States will continue to focus on the need for an independent judiciary in Cambodia. It is only through respect for the rule of law and the existence of effective democratic institutions that barriers to impunity will be built and regimes like that of the Khmer Rouge will exist only in the sad annals of history.
The preceding was an editorial reflecting the views of the United States government.