Justice on trial

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 15 November, 2000, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 15 November, 2000, 12:00am

If Cambodia were to get a full apology from all those guilty of complicity in the country's tragic history of past decades, there would be quite a list to work through.

At one time or another, the US, Malaysia, Singapore and others backed some of the unsavoury elements, at least partially and indirectly, which eventually became part of the current regime. The United Nations itself supported remnants of the Khmer Rouge throughout the 1980s in an attempt to restore stability.

But China alone gave large amounts of direct aid in cash and weapons to the Khmer Rouge, which is why student demonstrators were demanding an official apology during President Jiang Zemin's recent visit. And it is Beijing which has consistently resisted attempts to bring remaining survivors of the leadership to trial, for it wants no new revelations about how it supported that murderous regime. Human rights lawyers worry that Mr Jiang's visit will encourage Prime Minister Hun Sen to delay the judicial process still further.

Mr Hun Sen reluctantly agreed to hold a few trials but only in Cambodia, which has no reliable judicial system, rather than in international courts. Several former Khmer Rouge commanders still live in comfort and security in Cambodia, and many have been officially pardoned despite known involvement in the genocide which killed over one million civilians and brought torture and starvation to many more. Other war criminals are protected by defection deals which brought Mr Hun Sen - himself a Khmer Rouge veteran - to power.

Recently, the Prime Minister praised former Khmer Rouge leader Ieng Sary for leading defecting rebels to the Government in 1996. It seems unlikely that he will ever be made to answer for his deeds. Only one, the notorious Ta Mok, awaits trial. But Mr Hun Sen has succeeded in changing the law to allow detainees to be held for up to three years, perhaps a delaying tactic to prevent Ta Mok from implicating others during a trial.

The UN should continue to apply pressure on Mr Hun Sen to bring the remaining leaders to trial. A shattered nation in which no single family escaped suffering deserves to see justice done.