A quarter of a century on, those responsible for that dark and bloody period in Cambodia’s history still have not paid for their crimes.
Many of the Khmer Rouge leaders have already died — at peace and at liberty. Those still alive are advancing in years.
At last there are signs of some sort of justice for the estimated 1.7 million Cambodians murdered under Pol Pot’s tyranny in the form of a UN sponsored tribunal.
But any convictions that follow will be too little, too late.
: I was a columnist in San Francisco then and the paper decided to make the plight of Cambodian refugees its cause. Papers are often good at that, if only in short spurts of mass sympathy. I wrote columns about it. We helped run a benefit concert with Linda Ronstadt (who was decent to me even if I had gossiped in print about her and Jerry Brown) and Joan Baez (who, you’d be surprised, has a wonderfully dark and nasty sense of humor). I went and met refugee familes who had no money and no education and no ties who suddenly landed in tiny San Francisco apartments that had nothing in common with their farms at home. The woman who took me and brought this issue to our attention was one of the most amazing people I’ve ever met, Mu Sochua. Back then, she fought for the lives of refugees and hoped to one day return home, though she presumed that her father (once head of Cambodia’s airline) and mother were long dead.
I’ve thought of her often over these years and only recently looked her up on the Internet to find that she is now a minister of the Cambodian government.
And now I think of her in the context of Iraq, which suffered its brutal and insane government, which had its mass graves, which is just now trying to bring justice where injustice ruled, which is grappling with ongoing violence, which is just now starting to rebuild. Twenty-five years later, Cambodia is still going through so much of that, finding justice, rebuilding, healing.
It will take time for Iraq. It will take time for Afghanistan. But they are all so much better off today.
How could we in good conscience let the Khmer Rouge rule? How could we in good conscience have continued to let Saddam rule? And yes, how could we in any conscience have ever dealt with any of them? But how can we not help them rebuild? How can we not be patient when they are patient?