Khmer Rouge leaders must be taken to trial

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 05 January, 1999, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 05 January, 1999, 12:00am

There is an absolute moral imperative for putting the main architects of the Khmer Rouge genocide on trial in an internationally run court. All governments with influence must help get Ieng Sary, Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea out of Cambodia for this purpose as soon as possible.

If an international tribunal is not appropriate for the Khmer Rouge, what could it ever be used for? The Khmer Rouge killed a greater percentage of their country's population than any other group in the 20th century. If we are prepared to chase the many Bosnian Serbs, then we must chase the Khmer Rouge, slaughterers of up to three million.

Hun Sen's specious arguments about burying the past are a very unfortunate turn of phrase, given the amount of burying both he and other Khmer Rouge leaders have been responsible for. To take his arguments in turn: First: That there is a risk of a return to civil war. No, there is not. Ta Mok and perhaps 200 fighters remain in the jungle, and putting the leaders on trial is not going to lead to other Khmers heading off to the jungle to fight again.

Second: That they should not be put on trial in order to forget the past. For years Cambodians have been asking for the civil war to stop and for there to be justice.

I had the privilege of living in Cambodia for two years, and on one five-day boat journey I met 160 families. All of them had lost at least two family members between 1975 and 1979. They demand, at the very least, a full accounting for the past.

Third: Who is Hun Sen to decide? He was a zone commander in the East between 1975 and 1977 and there is increasing evidence that he was responsible for atrocities then, in addition to the murder of political opponents between 1979 and 1998.

King Sihanouk, whose family lost 16 members, is in tune with public emotions, and the Cambodian regime is not. Major aid donors, particularly the United States, France, Japan and Australia, have enormous financial and diplomatic leverage, and they should bring this to bear immediately. This was the greatest crime of the late 20th century, and if this culture of impunity is not broken, then there is hope in Cambodia neither for justice nor for people ever to take responsibility for their actions.

The Cambodian courts are not an option, they are puppets of Hun Sen. The international community should make it very clear to the Cambodian regime that an international tribunal is not negotiable, and if they do not hand them over then forces should go in to get the three murderers.

It is a crying disgrace that Boutros Boutros Ghali has even met these murderers, let alone trying to undercut an international tribunal. This is genocide and someone must take responsibility.