Capturing Pot would aid international law

Despite the post-World War II trials of leading German Nazis at Nuremburg, crimes against humanity continue and generally go unpunished. Cambodia is a prime example. About two million Cambodians — one-fifth of the total population — died of starvation, hard labor and execution under Pol Pot’s 1975-79 regime. For years, the notorious dictator eluded authorities. But the Cambodian government has yet to give up on the search. Earlier in April, Prime Minister Hun Sen deployed troops into the jungle near Thailand to find Pol Pot. His government also petitioned the United Nations to establish an international tribunal to punish Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge comrades for their acts of genocide. The Genocide Convention, signed by most nations, outlaws the mass slaughter of civilians.
Before Nuremburg, international law had never applied criminal sanctions to individuals. Only recently the precedent was again applied, when the United Nations convened tribunals to investigate war crimes and crimes against humanity in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. Punishing the Adolf Hitlers and Pol Pots of the world is a noble idea. President Clinton has reportedly ordered the State, Defense and Justice departments to make plans for capturing Pol Pot. But such an interventionist policy, critics argue, creates problems.
National sovereignty mandates that each country stay out of the domestic affairs of others. Neither the United States nor the United Nations has any right to arrest a Cambodian national on his home soil. This nation would certainly not have accepted a Chinese raid on the coast of California, say, to capture Richard Nixon and bring him to trial for his bombing of Cambodia and Laos. In this case, the Cambodian government has asked for international assistance and is eager to see Pol Pot tried abroad. Acting without such national consent would put Americans at risk of kidnapping and trial abroad.
Pol Pot’s health is extremely poor. He is stricken with heart disease, chronic respiratory problems and other ailments. Last year, he was ousted from the Khmer Rouge by his military commander, Ta Mok. His former comrades denounced Pol Pot as a traitor and sentenced him to house arrest for life. But this extra-legal jungle justice might be a ploy for the Khmer Rouge to distance itself from Pol Pot in order to gain domestic legitimacy. Since the trial, the guerrilla group has made no attempts to surrender the dictator to an international tribunal.
The United States, equipped to back Cambodia, should work with Cambodia to uphold the law against genocide. Pol Pot must be arrested and prosecuted. A domestic trial would threaten Cambodia’s already shaky political order. Cambodia’s government is in negotiations with Khmer Rouge defectors who might end their insurgency and join civil politics. The only way to avoid complicating Cambodia’s situation is to move Pol Pot out of Cambodia and try him before an international tribunal. As the Clinton administration stated, Pol Pot is a war criminal who must be tried in an internationally accepted court. Only then can the world declare that Southeast Asia’s most savage dictator was punished for his crimes.