Cambodia and the United Nations have signed an agreement to bring to trial senior Khmer Rouge leaders and those most responsible for the deaths of as many as three-million Cambodian men, women, and children.
Between 1975 and 1979, the Communist Khmer Rouge, led by Pol Pot, murdered hundreds of thousands of people. Countless others died of starvation, disease, exposure, and forced labor. Pol Pot died in 1998. Not one senior Khmer Rouge leader has been brought to account for the Cambodian genocide. U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher says an accounting is long overdue: "The establishment of credible tribunals within Cambodia is a key step towards eliminating the climate of impunity in the country. Achieving a credible process, however, will not be easy given the state of the judiciary in Cambodia today."
Cambodia's judiciary has done little to stop human rights abuses or wanton violations of the law by government officials. Security officials and military leaders enjoy virtual immunity from prosecution. Judges and prosecutors often have no legal training. Corruption is widespread. Judges and prosecutors suspended for taking bribes have been nominated to appellate court positions.
That is why U-N oversight and participation in the tribunal is indispensable. The U-N has included important safeguards in the U-N-Cambodia agreement to ensure that the tribunal complies with international standards of justice, fairness, and due process. The agreement calls for the participation of disinterested international judges in the tribunal.
The agreement must still be ratified by the Cambodian legislature. That will probably happen after national elections on July 27th, says Richard Boucher of the U.S. State Department:
"After the elections, we'll be joining other U-N member states in seeking strong international support to ensure the tribunal will be able to carry out its mandate in accordance with international standards of justice, fairness, and due process."
The Cambodian genocide was a terrible tragedy and an injustice that has gone unanswered. People everywhere have an obligation to help bring the Khmer Rouge to justice.