Cambodians have observed a moment of silence to recall the victims of the Khmer Rouge regime.
When the Khmer Rouge took power in 1975, Cambodia had a population of over seven-million people. By the time that regime was overthrown in 1978, it is estimated that up to three-million Cambodians had been murdered.
The Communist Khmer Rouge targeted military and civilian leaders of the former government, ethnic minorities, intellectuals, physicians, teachers, and other professionals. The Khmer Rouge systematically emptied urban areas, forcing residents into the countryside, where they lacked food, agricultural implements, and medical care.
Sok Sam Oeun is executive director of the Cambodian Defenders Project, a human rights group based in Cambodia. He says, "No one can imagine how serious [the situation was] during the Khmer Rouge."
Cambodia is only now beginning to bring those responsible to justice for the genocide. The United States believes there must be accountability for these atrocities and welcomes the agreement between the United Nations and Cambodia to establish the Khmer Rouge Tribunal. Pierre-Richard Prosper is U.S. ambassador-at-large for war crimes issues. He recently visited Cambodia:
"The United States hopes and wants to be in a position where we will be able to support this, both politically and financially. But in order to do so...we need to believe, and our Congress needs to be shown, that this process will meet international standards."
Ambassador Prosper says that the U.S. will support the Cambodia tribunal only if it is free of corruption and the Cambodian judges are independent. He stressed that the Cambodian government process for selecting judges and other tribunal personnel needs to be transparent.
U.S. State Department deputy spokesman Adam Ereli says, "We will also continue to focus on the importance of and 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 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.