Justice For Cambodia

From 1975 to 1979, the Khmer Rouge killed about 2 million people. But the leaders who authorized this crime may never be punished. Correspondent Bob Simon examines the issue, with some of survivors.
Although Cambodia is now at peace, the country is still fragile; as a result, those in charge are reluctant to make waves. But Youk Chhang disagrees. He wants trials.

"The most significant [thing is] to send a strong [message] to the people of Cambodia that you have to respect the law," says Chhang, who escaped Cambodia and returned to document evidence of Khmer Rouge genocide.

"No matter who you are - the king, the minister, son of the minister, the farmer, the student - if you commit a crime, we will punish you," Chhang says. "It will turn Cambodia in to the right direction to become a state of law. And secondly people will feel free because right now we are still hostages of the past."

Another site on the Cambodian Holocaust is From Sideshow to Genocide, which also features survivors' stories.
Arn Chorn Pond also wants to see the perpetrators punished. "The feeling that I hate the most - and I don't want to have it in me...is the feeling of hate," says Pond, who survived the killing fields, in part, because his captors liked to listen to him play the flute. "That['s] what I hate the most - what I have inside me - and I don't want to feel that."

Seng Ty can live with the hate; he just wants justice, he says. "I've...suffered too much, my families and my friends, and other million[s of] Cambodians suffer. I think they should do something to these top leaders."

The organization most interested in having trials is the U.S. government, whose actions destabilized Cambodia 30 years ago and allowed the Khmer Rouge to take power in the first place.

Among those pushing for an international tribunal is the U.S. State Department's ambassador for war crimes, David Scheffer.

"The UN has put out...between 15 and 20 individuals who are identified as having been in that upper echelon of the central committee during the Pol Pot years - as well as a few of the most notorious violators of international humanitarian law during that period," he says. "And they can be identified."

But arresting these officials is more difficult than identifying them. In Pailin, the former capital of the Khmer Rouge, that regime still has its followers.

A few years ago just about everyone there belonged to the Khmer Rouge. Van Ra was the cook for Pol Pot, the regime's leader. Now she runs a restaurant and talks of the good old days. "I think he was a nice person but I fear that people would say he was not," she sys, adding that the real killers were actually the Vietnamese.

When pressed, she admits that she knows this is not true. Nevertheless, she continues to defend the Khmer Rouge, saying that it protected the people.

Even the man who vanquished the Khmer Rouge doesn't want war crimes trials. Hun Sen, the current prime minister, says that he might change his mind but only if Richard Nixon, Henry Kissinger and the American military officials who bombed Cambodia are also charged with war crimes.

During the Vietnam War, President Nixon and Kissinger, then secretary of state, ordered illegal and secret bombing in Cambodia. The intended targets were North Vietnamese troops seeking sanctuary in Cambodia. The people killed were mostly innocent Cambodians.

Scheffer doesn't agree with Hun Sen's proposal. "That's not really for him to determine," he says. "I think it's honorable and it's right for the United States to still seek justice for what occurred to more than 1 1/2 million Cambodian victims during the late 1970s."

Ty knows that the top killers may never be punished. He wants at least to make sure that the genocide is not forgotten as well.

"There's no Cambodian Holocaust display there," he says. "There's no nothing. Even those in Cambodia. You look at the killing fields now - everything is gone....It seemed like you're looking at this, not like real. So I'm worried."

When it comes to Pond, his pursuit of justice is far more complicated and points to the thorniest problem involved in putting the Khmer Rouge on trial: where do you start and where do you stop. Pond survived by entertaining his Khmer Rouge captors. But he was also forced to kill others, he says. Is he guilty, too?

As a sort of penance, Pond is trying to rebuild his country. In addition to killing millions, the Khmer Rouge also tried to destroy traditional Cambodian culture. "After the Khmer Rouge time," Pond says, "nine out of 10 of masters - of performers, musicians, dancers singer were killed." Pond wants to restore this culture, by finding and helping the master musicians and performing artists who survived.

So few remain that Pond can find them all easily. Among those that he has found is the country's great comedian; Pond pays for the man's shack so his family will not be homeless.

Pond helps them out as best as he can. He helped obtain a small pension for an older woman, a former Cambodian opera diva. The musician Pond most wants to help is the man who saved his life. A master musician, this man taught Pond to play the flute when both were imprisoned. He now makes end meet as a barber in Battembang, Cambodia's second biggest city.

Recently Pond tracked down his savior, performing at a wedding. When they met, the two men embraced.

Pond doesn't care if the leaders go to trial, he says. He is getting his own sort of justice. "My revenge is this: what I'm doing right to the moment o do...good things before I die."

He has now returned to his new life in Lowell. But he's never far from the killing fields and their ghosts.

And he still plays the flute. "And when I play,...I just want to see all those faces that ended up there, thousands of faces. I just want to play for their soul to go and be peaceful."

To review some of the accounts of the killing fields, go to Return To Cambodia.

Broadcast produced by Steven Glauber; Web site produced by David Kohn;