CAMBODIA – On A clear tropical morning last week, the police arrived at a villa here and arrested Ieng Sary and his wife, Ieng Thirith, carefully explaining legal procedures to the elderly Khmer Rouge leaders. It had been nearly 30 years since the overthrow of the regime of the infamous “killing fields,” in which an estimated 1.7 million Cambodians perished.
Yet in all those years no one had been held accountable for one of the worst crimes against humanity of the last century. Pol Pot, the Khmer Rouge leader, died a free man in 1998. Ieng Sary, the former foreign minister, and Ieng Thirith, the former minister of social affairs, both close associates of Pol Pot, had lived openly under an amnesty granted them in 1996 â€” one likely to be raised in their trials for crimes against humanity. They are among five Khmer Rouge leaders, regarded as the most culpable for the killing fields of those still alive, who are to be tried by a special court created with United Nations assistance. The tribunal held its first open hearing last week. But this trial comes far too late. The decades of impunity have already taken a heavy toll on attitudes toward law and justice.
I covered the rise of the Khmer Rouge and was in Cambodia for two harrowing weeks once they were in power. In the years that followed, I was appalled at the ability of the leaders to avoid prosecution…(...more)