Saturday, April 18, 1998

Pol Pot's Legacy

The Washington Post
The reported death of Pol Pot in the Cambodian jungle means that one of this century's most egregious mass murderers will not stand trial or be held accountable for his crimes. But it should not mean that Pol Pot's accomplices now will be let off the hook, and it does not mean that other nations with an interest in Cambodia's future should ease their pressure for a restoration of democracy there.

From 1975 to 1979 more than a million and probably closer to 2 million Cambodians were executed or died from the effects of torture or deliberate starvation and brutal overwork. Pol Pot was the nation's Communist leader at the time; he presided over the deaths of one-fifth of his population. But he was not alone.

According to painstaking documentation assembled by the Cambodia Genocide Project at Yale University (partially funded by the State Department), a standing committee, on March 30, 1976, formally established an integrated national network of extermination centers. These were responsible for an estimated million deaths of people who are now buried in 20,000 mass graves. Eight to 10 members of that committee are still alive and at large.

The tendency on the part of the international community will be to abandon efforts to bring to trial those guilty of crimes against humanity. With Pol Pot gone, attention will fade; some believe that his colleagues killed him for just that reason. Moreover, some of his onetime comrades are in league with Cambodia's current leader, Hun Sen. It would make diplomats' jobs easier to let them be. It would also be an affront to justice and to Cambodia's many victims.

The same international fatigue is emerging with respect to Hun Sen, who seized power in a coup last July. Officials from the United States, Japan, Cambodia's neighbors and other nations will meet in Bangkok on Sunday to decide whether to resume some aid to his regime, at least to help organize an election he wants to hold in July. He hopes that the election will legitimize his authoritarian rule.

Some in Bangkok will want to go forward because Hun Sen has allowed the deposed prime minister Prince Ranariddh to return to Cambodia, supposedly a gesture of reconciliation. But political killings of Ranariddh supporters continue, and no one has been brought to justice for more than 40 past murders. Hun Sen's opponents live in fear and with limited access to the media. No impartial courts or electoral commission exist.

Until these conditions change, a credible election is impossible. The United States and its allies should not put themselves in the position of blessing any other kind.

Mer om Pol Pot och Birgitta Dahl