Norodom Sihanouk

Wiping out history

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 10 October, 1996, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 10 October, 1996, 12:00am

The admission by Cambodia's King Norodom Sihanouk that he was personally opposed to the amnesty given to Ieng Sary of the Khmer Rouge may strengthen calls that the guerilla leader should not escape unpunished. Few believe his protestations of innocence in the massacre of millions of Cambodians during his brother-in-law's reign of terror during the 1970s. Surviving witnesses who came to his personal attention tell a very different story. The killing fields of the Pol Pot regime virtually wiped out a generation in the country, which is left with few middle-aged people.

As the devastated country struggles to recover, and attempts to rebuild its shattered infrastructure and economy, it may be that the Government believes it is necessary for stability and peace to offer Khmer Rouge soldiers amnesty. The question is whether the international community can feel at ease when crimes against humanity of such magnitude are simply waved aside as if they had never happened.

That is precisely how it will be in Cambodia if the government has its way. An even more incomprehensible decision has followed the pardon given to Ieng Sary. The crimes of the murderous regime are not merely excused, but are being struck from the records.

Already, schoolbooks are being altered, to remove all reference to the genocide which laid waste to the country. Illustrations and text referring to Khmer Rouge atrocities are being expunged from textbooks. The Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports has instructed teachers to discontinue lessons on the subject.

Whatever reasoning prompted the decision, and however desperate the hunger for a permanent peace in the country, it is surely a dreadful mistake to try to blot out history in this way. A country so appallingly damaged cannot recover by pretending that history past did not take place. To forgive, under these circumstances, seems beyond normal understanding; but to order a national exercise in forced ignorance is to deny tomorrow's generation the right to know its country's past.