More than twenty-five years ago, as many as three-million Cambodians were murdered or died from starvation, imprisonment, torture, or forced labor. Pol Pot, the Khmer Rouge leader most responsible for these horrific events, is dead. But several of his senior associates have yet to be brought to trial.
Cambodian officials signed an agreement with the United Nations in June 2003 to bring the accused Khmer Rouge leaders to trial. But Cambodia's national assembly has not ratified the agreement due to the ongoing negotiations since the July elections to form a new government.
The Khmer Rouge seized power in April 1975. In four years of terror, they executed intellectuals and enslaved the population in mass farming collectives. That the Khmer Rouge committed crimes against humanity is not disputed -- even by some top Khmer Rouge leaders. One of those leaders, Khieu Samphan, recently acknowledged in an open letter that Cambodia "must face a painful past of hatred and terror."
Khieu Samphan claims not to have known about the torture, murder, and enslavement of millions during the time he and his Khmer Rouge associates were in power. But in a speech given in April 1977, he called on Khmer Rouge cadres to take action "resolutely suppressing all categories of enemies."
Cambodia's genocide serves as a warning of what can happen when human rights are not respected and where democratic institutions are weak or non-existent. President George W. Bush points out that successful societies, whatever the culture, share certain basic principles: "Successful societies limit the power of the state and the power of the military -- so that the government responds to the will of the people, and not the will of an elite. Successful societies protect freedom with the consistent and impartial rule of law. . . . And instead of directing hatred and resentment against others, successful societies appeal to the hopes of their own people."
The Khmer Rouge leaders ruled by hate and fear. Before it is too late, they must receive the justice they denied so many others.