This month, the United Nations and Cambodia initiated a draft framework for putting on trial senior leaders of the Khmer Rouge, and those most responsible for atrocities committed between 1975 and 1979.
In 1975, the Communist Khmer Rouge seized power in Cambodia. In an attempt to build an ultra-Marxist agrarian society, the Khmer Rouge ordered the complete evacuation of all Cambodian towns and cities. Schools and factories were closed. Farming was collectivized. Money, private property, and religion were banned. Communication with other countries was forbidden. Nearly two-million Cambodians died from execution or enforced hardship. The Khmer Rouge ruled Cambodia until 1979, when Vietnam invaded the country. Cambodia experienced more years of unrest until U-N-sponsored elections were held in 1993.
So far, none of the senior Khmer Rouge responsible for deaths and misrule has been held to account. Some local commanders have been tried and convicted for the killings of a few, but none has stood trial for crimes against humanity. Pol Pot, the former Khmer Rouge leader, died in 1998, but other Khmer Rouge leaders survive. Hans Corell, the U-N’s legal counsel, said it is important that the trials be held “before those who will be the focus of the trial are too old to stand.”
Mr. Corell said that the U-N-Cambodia agreement is “designed to ensure a fair and public trial by an independent and impartial court.” The government of Cambodia has agreed not to request an amnesty or pardon for any former Khmer Rouge leaders investigated or convicted of crimes. The framework must be approved by the U-N General Assembly and by Cambodia’s legislature.
The U.S. strongly supports the establishment of a credible tribunal to bring to justice senior Khmer Rouge leaders and those most responsible for genocide and crimes against humanity in Cambodia.