A United Nations-backed Cambodian tribunal convicted the two surviving Communist Khmer Rouge leaders, including a former President and Prime Minister and another senior official, for crimes against humanity. The octogenarians were sentenced to life in prison.
The Khmer Rouge (Red Cambodian) seized power after the Fall of Saigon, South Vietnam in 1975, making
like Laos, one of the
“dominoes” that fell to the Communists after South Vietnam fell into their
hands, after the liberal Democratic United States Congress cut off aid to the
South Vietnamese. The Maoists, backed by
China, brutally ruled Cambodia from 1975-1979, imprisoning and torturing multitudes
of fellow Cambodians, murdering and overworking or starving to death nearly two
million people, which represented a quarter of the population of Cambodia. They emptied Cambodia’s
capital of Phnom Penh
to create an agrarian socialist utopia.
Many of its citizens were targeted for destruction for their bourgeois
lifestyle, marched into the countryside and buried alive in mass graves they
had been forced to dig in what became known as the “Killing Fields.” Most of the Khmer Rouge’s victims were
innocent civilians, including Buddhist monks, religious and ethnic
minorities, anyone found to possess private property, and those suspected of being
sympathetic to the West or educated to any degree, such as anyone wearing
Khmer Rouge General Secretary and Cambodian Prime Minister Pol Pot had been captured in 1997 by rebellious members of his party after he had ordered the murder of the Prime Minister. After a show trial, he was sentenced to lifelong house arrest in 1998, but died under mysterious circumstances shortly afterward, before any tribunal could try him for crimes against humanity.
Although the conviction and sentencing of the two surviving Khmer Rouge leaders is regarded by the Cambodian people as “too little, too late,” there is finally a degree of justice and the establishment of a legal and historical record of their crimes against humanity and genocide.