Political leaders responsible for crimes against humanity should be brought to justice no matter how many years have passed.

By setting an example of justice being meted out to such leaders, the international court set up in Cambodia to judge the brutalities of the Khmer Rouge regime has done a great service to the international community.

A United Nations-backed special tribunal charged with prosecuting the crimes of the Khmer Rouge regime, which was led by Pol Pot and ruled Cambodia in the late 1970s, recently held its final hearing after 16 years of work.

Driven by an extreme communist credo, the Pol Pot regime forced urban residents to migrate to rural areas and engage in farming. In the process, the Khmer Rouge allegedly caused the deaths of an estimated 1.7 million Cambodians, about a quarter of the country’s population at that time, from disease and executions.

In its brutal pursuit of a self-righteous vision of an agrarian utopia, the regime killed numerous intellectuals including teachers and technocrats. Clearly, the killings of many members of the intelligentsia eroded the foundation of society and hampered the efforts to rebuild the nation. This is a dark, tragic chapter of world history.

Even after the Khmer Rouge was ousted from power in 1979, the Southeast Asian nation was long plagued by civil war. The special tribunal was established more than a quarter-century after the end of the Pol Pot era.

As a result, only five former Khmer Rouge leaders, all advanced in age, were prosecuted. Four of them have died during their lengthy trials.

There is no denying that there were limits to the efforts to uncover the truth. Even so, some of the people responsible for the genocide were tried and sentenced to life in prison or given other harsh penalties.

The tribunal has provided a good example of the rule of law for the international community at a time when we are witnessing situations that can be characterized as crimes of state, such as the civil war in Syria and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

There have been many cases where an international tribunal was created in a third country to try people charged with war crimes. In the case of crimes committed by the the Khmer Rouge regime, however, a United Nations-assisted tribunal was set up at home.

The hundreds of witnesses who testified for the trials included victims and their families, former soldiers of the Pol Pot government and former guards at detention camps. Hundreds of thousands of people observed the hearings, which were televised live.

In Cambodian society, discussing what occurred during the Pol Pot era was long a taboo. But the legal proceedings offered opportunities for the people to confront this dark chapter of their country’s history. The process must have played a certain role for national reconciliation after the end of the conflict.

Despite the end of the trials, we hope Cambodian people will keep their collective memories of the era alive and use them for building a new future for their country.

From this point of view, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen’s increasingly autocratic behavior is worrisome. A former soldier for the Khmer Rouge, Hun Sen once opposed the establishment of the tribunal, saying uncovering the past would cause confusion.

Having been in power for more than 35 years, Hun Sen has recently taken such authoritarian steps as dismantling the largest opposition party and suppressing media and nongovernmental organizations.

Hun Sen and all other national leaders should learn from the Khmer Rouge trials how a rule that brutally crushed opposition led to gruesome horrors so that they will not repeat such tragedies.

Japan, which was involved in the peace-building process in Cambodia, also cooperated with the work of the special tribunal. It has provided some 30 percent of the international aid to support the process as well as a judge for the trials.

For a developing country such as Cambodia that has suffered years of armed conflict, the establishment of the legal and judicial systems is vital for its modernization. Japan’s contribution to helping the tribunal’s efforts has added a value that goes beyond the economic benefit.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Sept. 27

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EDITORIAL: Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge tribunal a proper model of justice

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27.09.2022

Political leaders responsible for crimes against humanity should be brought to justice no matter how many years have passed.

By setting an example of justice being meted out to such leaders, the international court set up in Cambodia to judge the brutalities of the Khmer Rouge regime has done a great service to the international community.

A United Nations-backed special tribunal charged with prosecuting the crimes of the Khmer Rouge regime, which was led by Pol Pot and ruled Cambodia in the late 1970s, recently held its final hearing after 16 years of work.

Driven by an extreme communist credo, the Pol Pot regime forced urban residents to migrate to rural areas and engage in farming. In the process, the Khmer Rouge allegedly caused the deaths of an estimated 1.7 million Cambodians, about a quarter of the country’s population at that time, from disease and executions.

In its brutal pursuit of a self-righteous vision of an agrarian utopia, the regime killed numerous intellectuals including teachers and technocrats. Clearly, the killings of........

© The Asahi Shimbun


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