Podium: Ralph L Boyce - A country still traumatised by Pol Pot

From a speech by the US State Department officer for Cambodia to the Senate foreign relations committee
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The Independent Culture
THOUSANDS OF former Khmer Rouge forces have recently been integrated into Cambodia's armed forces; the Khmer Rouge no longer represents an immediate military threat to the country's long-term stability. However, real concerns remain regarding the Cambodian government's commitment to judicial accountability for the actions of the senior Khmer Rouge leaders during the 1975-79 Pol Pot regime. The government's initially warm welcome last December of two defecting senior Khmer Rouge leaders, although later reversed, sent out mixed signals on the government's resolve to pursue justice.

The capture on 6 March of the hardline Khmer Rouge leader Ta Mok, who is known as "the Butcher" for his role as Pol Pot's right-hand man during the years of Khmer Rouge rule, is a very positive development. The US has been working very hard over the past year to accomplish this objective. Secretary Albright personally raised this subject during her recent visit to South-East Asia. At Assistant Secretary Roth's direction, Ambassador Quinn has actively pursued this matter with Prime Minister Hun Sen and other Cambodian officials. I did the same during my recent visit to Cambodia, as did Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes David Scheffer.

We have conveyed to the Cambodian government and the international community our strong conviction that those senior Khmer Rouge leaders must be brought to justice for their horrendous crimes and we are continuing to work with other interested countries to pursue the establishment of an appropriate international tribunal for this purpose.

The Cambodian government has a historic opportunity to rebuild the trust of the Cambodian people and to instil confidence in the rule of law by pursuing justice for the leaders of the Khmer Rouge. The government's handling of this issue will send a powerful signal to the people of Cambodia about whether the culture of impunity in Cambodia can be eliminated. The government's handling of this issue will also be an important part of how Cambodia is perceived within the international community.

The government's stated goal of sustainable development within a system of law cannot be achieved when justice is denied on an issue that has so profoundly affected so many Cambodians. We do not believe that the pursuit of justice is inherently destabilising as some have suggested in this case. On the contrary, we firmly believe that bringing senior Khmer Rouge leaders to justice is a necessary part of the long-term process of Cambodian national reconciliation.

The Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes and members of his staff have worked diligently with representatives of the Cambodian government to outline our views on this subject, and we anticipate that we will meet with the Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Nam Hong during his visit to New York this week to continue this dialogue

The hardships the Cambodian people face are enormous: the legacy of nearly two decades of war coupled with a failed 10-year experiment in socialist central planning. The country is ranked 140 out of 167 countries on the UN's human development list. The statistics are disheartening: half of all children are stunted or chronically malnourished; in every 200 live births, one mother dies; almost 12 per cent of all children born die before the age of five. The country has the fastest growing rate of HIV infection in Asia. And, as a consequence of landmines, Cambodia has a higher proportion of amputees than any other country in the world.

Our current assistance programme is squarely targeted at addressing these needs by providing $12m in the areas of maternal and child health, HIV/Aids education and prevention, micro-enterprise lending, assistance to war and mine victims and democracy and governance.

Last month, in Tokyo, the United States took part in the International Consultative Group meeting on Cambodia, which sought to reach a multilateral consensus on meeting Cambodia's pressing development needs. While we signalled our support for an international response to these needs, we told our international development partners at that meeting that the level and nature of our future assistance programmes will depend in large part on the Cambodian government's actions.

The United States and other donors will be looking for tangible progress toward genuine democracy, respect for human rights and demonstrated results by the government in carrying out much needed economic reforms.