OPINION: US support for the Khmer Rouge Tribunal

Phnom Penh (The Cambodia Herald/ANN) - As 2012 concludes, we should look back and celebrate the achievements of this remarkable year. Relations between the United States and Cambodia continued to benefit from the dedicated work of government leaders, civil society, and business people on both sides of the Pacific. In particular, as chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), Cambodia took an important step toward realising its promise of becoming a regional leader. The two visits by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during the Asean Regional Forum and the East Asia Summit, the participation of Secretary of Defence Leon Panetta in the Asean Defence Ministers' Retreat in Siem Reap, and the August visit of US Trade Representative Ron Kirk for the US-Asean Business Summit and Asean Economic Ministers Meeting all underscored the United States' commitment to Asean and Cambodia's success. For me personally, the visit of President Barack Obama to Cambodia was the high point of the year, and his participation in the East Asia Summit underscored the importance of our engagement with Asia.

A key thread running through these high-level visits was the US focus on strengthening US economic ties in the region. As I have written in this column recently, Cambodia's growing economy makes the country an important player in this effort, but I have also pointed out that Cambodia's continued growth and future success depend on advances in the rule of law and protection of human rights. Many of you have asked me how the United States is helping Cambodia in these areas, and one way we are doing so is through our support for the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), known by most of you as the Khmer Rouge Tribunal.

The United States is committed to helping Cambodia achieve peace and reconcilliation after the devastating 1975-1979 rule of the Khmer Rouge regime. Cambodia has made commendable strides in reintegrating former fighters and transforming the country from the horrors of war. Justice for the victims, however, has been difficult to achieve. The ECCC seeks to hold the senior leaders of the Khmer Rouge regime accountable and provide a measure of justice for victims through a partnership between the Royal Government of Cambodia and the United Nations.

The US government is proud to serve as a major donor to the ECCC. We recently finalised a US$5 million contribution for the coming year that will bring the total US commitment to the Court to nearly US$17 million dollars. Many other governments have also answered the call to support this historic mechanism for justice and reconcilliation, which is also helping to train the next generation of Cambodia's judicial officials.

While budgetary challenges at the ECCC sometimes grab the most attention in the press, they should not overshadow the Court's accomplishments. The rule of law is prevailing to ensure that the surviving leadership of the Khmer Rouge faces justice. Former S-21 prison chief Kaing Guek Eav, also known as Duch, is now sitting in a prison cell serving a life sentence. Three other senior leaders must face their accusers daily and respond to charges that they participated in one of the most insidious projects to exterminate human life the world has ever seen. This is not the only effort to try those accused of mass atrocities and declare that crimes against humanity and genocide have no place in our society, but let us all pray that it is the last.

As we say goodbye to 2012, I wish all Cambodians a happy and prosperous 2013. We can be certain of new challenges, but I am confident we will also find new opportunities in the year ahead.

Thank you for taking the time to read my column this week. I encourage you to send me your questions in English or Khmer at AskAMBToddPP@state.gov and to follow my blog at http://blogs.usembassy.gov/todd/.

William E. Todd is US Ambassador to the Kingdom of Cambodia

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