News / Asia

Cambodians Mark Khmer Rouge Anniversary, Many Still Hoping for Justice

A boy looks at a pile of skulls in a stupa at Choeung Ek memorial on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, Cambodia,  April 17, 2014.
A boy looks at a pile of skulls in a stupa at Choeung Ek memorial on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, April 17, 2014.
Cambodians on Thursday marked the 39th anniversary of the fall of Phnom Penh to the Khmer Rouge, with many victims of the regime still anxious to see the conclusion of the trial of two jailed leaders.

On April 17, 1975, the Khmer Rouge overran the capital and began emptying Cambodia's cities, pushing people into labor camps and work collectives in the countryside.

Bou Meng is one of the few survivors of the notorious Tuol Sleng detention center in Phnom Penh, where his wife was tortured and executed.  He told VOA that it is vital to remember the horrors of the past.

“April 17 is a historic day that none of us can forget," said Meng.

Nearly 40 years later, only Kaing Kek Iev, better known as Duch, who oversaw Tuol Sleng, has been successfully brought to trial by a United Nations-backed tribunal.

Aging Khmer Rouge leaders Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan are awaiting a verdict in the first phase of their trial, as well as the beginning of the second and final phase.  They are accused of atrocities including genocide, for their leadership roles in the regime.

Long Panhavuth, who monitors the tribunal at the Cambodia Justice Initiative, said their ongoing trial should serve as a reminder that such crimes will not go unpunished.

“First, we can say that large scaled offenses like the crimes against humanity, war crimes, and genocide, have no statute of limitation.  Second, this shows us that in whatever circumstances, those who are responsible for these crimes must be brought to justice for their roles in causing deaths to people," said Panhavuth.

Government spokesman Phay Siphan said Thursday that the April 17 anniversary serves as a lesson to government leaders.

“We’ve learned a lot from experience which had led to violent change like what the Khmer Rouge did, and their nation building process based on violence," said Siphan.

The Khmer Rouge regime is blamed for the deaths of nearly 2 million Cambodians during its bloody, four-year rule in the late 1970's.

This report was produced in collaboration with the VOA Khmer service.

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