Frontline World

Cambodia - Pol Pot's Shadow, October, 2002

Synopsis of "Pol Pot's Shadow"

In Search of Justice

Historical Analysis: The U.S. and Cambodia

The Rapper, the Dancer, and the Storyteller

Learn more about Cambodia

Genocide, War Crimes, Politics




Chronicle of Survival
Cambodia walks a fine line Caught in the crossfire Terror and genocide Back to square oneMoving ahead, looking back

1992-2002: Moving ahead, looking back Profile: Dith Pran
U.N. peacekeepers arrived in Phnom Penh in March 1992 to supervise the revival of Cambodia's constitutional monarchy. The following year, elections were held and a new constitution was ratified. Once again, Norodom Sihanouk assumed the throne, while Hun Sen shared the office of prime minister with Sihanouk's son, Prince Norodom Ranariddh. However, Cambodia's troubles were far from over. Its economy was in ruins, tens of thousands of people remained displaced and the countryside was littered with as many as 8 million land mines. And Sen, who would oust Ranariddh in a bloody 1997 coup, was criticized for his autocratic style and human rights abuses.

UN peacekeepersHaving distanced itself from the Khmer Rouge, America's relations with Cambodia improved significantly in the 1990s. Congress granted Cambodia most-favored-nation trading status and restored aid to the government. In 1994, President Bill Clinton signed the Cambodian Genocide Justice Act, which advocated bringing the perpetrators of the Khmer Rouge's crimes to trial and provided $400,000 to research and collect information about the genocide. Pol Pot and other Khmer Rouge leaders continued to live freely in Cambodia and Thailand, though they became increasingly isolated. In 1996, almost half of the remaining Khmer Rouge forces surrendered to the government and received amnesty. As pressure to arrest Pol Pot mounted, the Khmer Rouge declared that it had sentenced him to life imprisonment for his crimes. UNTAC VanIn April 1998, the enigmatic mastermind of the killing fields died of heart failure, disappointing those who wished to see him brought before an internationally recognized tribunal.

To date, two Khmer Rouge leaders, including the former head of Tuol Sleng prison, have been arrested and charged with genocide. However, they cannot be tried until Cambodia and the United Nations settle an ongoing dispute over how to set up genocide tribunals. Some observers have criticized Prime Minister Hun Sen's hesitation to aggressively pursue the Khmer Rouge leadership. In 1999, he accepted Nuon Chea's surrender and apology, and he has suggested that Cambodia "dig a hole and bury the past." Recently, Sen -- a former Khmer Rouge soldier himself -- has said he supports tribunals but wants to minimize outside interference in establishing them.

Man holding voter registration card
Cambodian man holding up UN voter registration card - September, 1992

Cambodia is still trying to recover from one of the 20th century's most horrific crimes against humanity. How it will recover from this trauma remains subject to debate, both inside Cambodia and abroad. Some say Cambodians must move on and focus on rebuilding their country. Others say Cambodia will suffer from a "culture of impunity" until its former leaders are held accountable for their actions. And others insist that any examination of the Khmer Rouge years must also address Cambodia's troubled recent history and the United States' controversial role in it.


photo: Cambodian-American Journalist and Activist Dith Pran
credit: Photo Courtesy Dith Pran

photo: Tunisian UN peace-keepers arriving in Cambodia - June 1992
credit: UN Photo 159464 / P.S. Sudhakaran

photo: UNTAC van dispensing flyers - May, 1993
credit: UN Photo / P.S. Sudhakaran

photo: Cambodian man holding up UN voter registration card - September, 1992
credit: UN Photo 186058 / P.S. Sudhakaran