It’s not a satisfying verdict. And no punishment can ever balance the scales for the many lives that the Khmer Rouge destroyed.
This August the two most senior surviving regime leaders, responsible for slaughtering an estimated 1.7 million Cambodians from 1975 to 1979 in the name of restructuring society along collectivist agrarian lines, were sentenced to life imprisonment. They are 88-year-old Nuon Chea and 83-year-old Khieu Samphan.
The pair are the first Khmer Rouge leaders convicted under proceedings sponsored by the Cambodian government and the United Nations. The only previous verdict was handed down in 2010 against a lower-rung if still pretty vicious official, Kaing Guek Eav, then 67, sentenced to 19 years. As a prison commandant, he had overseen the torturing and killing of more than 14,000 people.
“I am not satisfied!” said 79-year-old Chum Mey back then. He had testified about being tortured by the regime. “We are victims two times, once in the Khmer Rouge time and now once again.” Others expressed similar dismay.
As for the notorious Pol Pot, he had died in 1998 after briefly suffering a house arrest as penalty for just one of his many murders.
One hopes that the proceedings, tainted by politics and other vitiating factors, will be improved even at this late date. But as near-futile as the trials must seem to many survivors, I have to believe that even partial justice, however meager and belated, is better than no justice.
This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.