Trial of Khmer Rouge Leaders
Delivered in Plenary 18th January 2001
There are people here who are old enough not to have forgotten the extraordinary and harrowing reports that came out of Cambodia in 1975, with aerial pictures of a deserted capital as the Khmer Rouge, their leaders schooled in the violent tenets of French revolutionary tradition and possessing a mixture of political idealism and mass psychopathology, moved two million people from the city to the countryside to begin a new society in year zero under the leadership of the "great" Pol Pot. The sick were dragged from the hospitals or left to die. What followed was to shock the world. The human rights abuses of Bosnia, Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Chile, Angola are dwarfed by the sheer scale of the atrocities that took place under the Khmer Rouge. The deliberate deaths of between one and two million people constituted a real genocide. Perhaps, to be accurate, we should call it a sectocide for the intention was not to wipe out a race but an entire class with victims selected on the basis of whether they were educated, whether their hands showed signs of manual work, or even whether they wore spectacles.
It is not surprising therefore that following Pol Pot's death and the defeat of the Khmer Rouge, there should be a need for some kind of national catharsis through the application of justice and a calling to account of those responsible. Personally I hope that the prosecutions will not be restricted to the top 20 leaders but be extended to those who daily brutalised and executed their victims. If the Cambodian people want these trials to proceed, and the political situation is sufficiently stable to permit them, then it is only natural that the international community, through the UN, should wish to support them in that aim. We should beware, however, of imposing justice on other states, especially if such proceedings might unravel a political truce or accommodation that has brought peace or stability to the region and promises a better future. Amnesties are sometimes necessary, if unpalatable. In Cambodia, though, it looks as though the people and government are ready to take the risk of overturning previous amnestics in order to secure justice. If that is the case we should wish them well in this venture.