The denial of any genocide in Cambodia during one of the most murderous regimes the
world has ever experienced must be conceived as a slap in the face by those who lived
through that time and lost their relatives. Such a claim was made in the article
"Devil's advocate: there should be no KR trial", by Philip Short, (Post,
Genocide is "the deliberate and systematic destruction of a racial, religious,
political, or ethnic group". The criteria for genocide is - contrary to the
opinion expressed in the article - not only "...the extermination of an entire
race". The systematic destruction of a religious or political group within a
race is by far enough to qualify as genocide.
It is needless to explain that the ubiquitous killings of many of the "new people"
from the city occurred because they were seen as a danger for "Angkar"
(the term used by the KR for Democratic Kampuchea), in other words for mere political
It is also commonly known that people who were educated or who bore signs of education,
such as the ability to speak a foreign language, wearing glasses, etc, were systematically
singled out and killed because they were seen as potential threats against the regime.
To claim that "...one cannot define this as 'genocide'" is more than absurd.
In addition, how are the killings of hundreds of Buddhist monks to qualify, if not
as the systematic extermination of a religious group?
The quotation of Mao Zedong, as saying, "Revolution is not a dinner party. It
is an act of violence whereby one class overthrows the power of another" sounds
like an attempt to downplay the atrocities committed by Pol Pot and his men. Mao
Zedong was himself responsible for the deaths of millions of landowners during the
land reform in China and sounds therefore rather out of place to be quoted here.
Indeed, double standards are abundant in today's politics. But the failure to bring
the perpetrators of one holocaust to justice cannot be used to justify another one.
Whereas it is undeniable that genocide has taken place under the command of the Khmer
Rouge, the usefulness of a Khmer Rouge trial can of course be questioned.
The benefit it might provide the Cambodian people is open to discussion. Nobody denies
that such a trial appears not only for the sake of the Khmer people but that it largely
serves foreign interests as well. And as the author of the above-mentioned article
puts it, the huge amount of money which is likely to be spent on the trial is far
better invested in many other things Cambodia is desperately in need of.
In addition, if there is a trial at all, then the foreign powers which created the
perfect environment for an extremist movement like the Khmer Rouge must equally be
brought to justice. The latter were nothing other than a byproduct of the misery
caused in Cambodia by Cold War policies.
Also the French colonization of Cambodia favored the development towards a nationalist
and communist movement. When it comes to the colonization of countries, the negative
impact of the colonial powers on the nations under their control is often swept under
In Vietnam, the French colonization was largely marked by exploitation of the rural
population and triggered abundant corruption. The occupation of their land on one
hand and the oppression inflicted on them on the other were ideal preconditions for
peasant uprisings and the communist movement of the Vietminh (the former teachers
of the Khmer Rouge).
Also in Cambodia, French colonization bolstered corruption and nationalist movements.
After the withdrawal of the French from Cambodia in 1953, the excessive corruption
remained and eventually culminated in the Lon Nol era.
The coup d'etat by General Lon Nol marked the beginning of another period of a foreign
de facto control over Cambodia, this time by the USA in the form of their strong
backing of Lon Nol and their military presence after the spilling over of the Vietnam
war into Cambodia on April 30, 1970. It must not surprise when a country, riddled
with corruption, foreign occupants being always present in one way or another, and
local governments being obedient to them gives rise to an extremist counterbalance.
Obviously, in the tug-of-war between left and right during the Cold War, and inspired
by "Uncle Ho's" Vietminh, who had successfully driven out the colonialists
of Vietnam, and the Vietcong who were fighting the Americans, this counterbalance
must have come from the extreme left and finally took shape in the form of the Khmer
The secret bombing of Cambodia's eastern provinces by the US forces between 1969
and 1973, which caused the death of uncounted thousands of civilians, was hardly
prone to win the sympathy of the rural population.
What else can be expected from these terror-stricken people than aggression and hatred
against the American-backed Lon Nol government? Weren't the countless orphans created
by this insane bombing campaign a welcome source for new recruitment of Khmer Rouge
soldiers? And what else can be expected from these very soldiers, who later watched
over the "new people" during the time of Democratic Kampuchea, than vent
their hatred on everybody who they saw even remotely associated with the Lon Nol
government, which led a cruel anti-Communist campaign against them and killed many
of their fellow soldiers? It is easily conceivable that they were willing tools and
didn't need much persuasion to carry out murderous acts when they were ordered to
march people away in the forests and kill them.
As it was made clear again during Jiang Zemin's recent visit to Cambodia, China refuses
to apologize for its massive support in the form of weapons, cash, and political
support for the Khmer Rouge. Had it not been for this support, the Pol Pot clique
could hardly have achieved what it did.
How about Thailand? Did the neighbor to the west really refrain from any support
ever for the Khmer Rouge, as recently claimed by the Thai Foreign Ministry ("The
Foreign Ministry has no information to substantiate that we supported the Khmer Rouge
during that time")? So, the blame for the disastrous acts committed by the Khmer
Rouge can hardly be laid on the handful of men alone who commanded this radical communist
movement. Doing so would be a mere scapegoat chase and the perpetrators who created
the ideal conditions for this tragic development would get away.
The Americans, who on one hand refuse to have an international court judge their
own soldiers but on the other hand are pushing for a Khmer Rouge trial, push the
picture of double standards further. Being Swiss, I have an idea how it is to live
in a country which was permanently accused by United States politicians of not giving
access to dormant bank accounts to relatives of their Jewish owners who died in Nazi
I disapprove of the failures of the Swiss banks myself.
But isn't it time the United States started minding its own business instead of constantly
pointing the finger at others?
- Stefan Brenken, Phnom Penh