Special Report

The Other Side of Genocide

Biased reporting understates the evils of the Khmer Rouge's crimes.

By 12.5.08

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It's probably passé for a conservative writer in a conservative publication to whack the America-hating media every time they transgress, so I will do so only briefly before seizing the opportunity to make more important points.

The obligatory bash: CNN's Christiane Amanpour has filed yet another airheaded report (partly carried over from earlier this year) that equates the nipple-ripping, extremity-electrocuting, baby-bashing torture by the late 1970s Khmer Rouge regime with modern-day U.S. waterboarding of detainees at Guantanamo prison. The network heavily promoted her "Scream Bloody Murder" documentary (that aired last night and will several times more), which addresses repeated occurrences of genocide since 1948 when members of the United Nations agreed on a pact to seek the prevention and punishment of such practices. Seems it hasn't done much good, Amanpour asserts.

Speaking specifically to the above point, there is plenty in the history of U.S. foreign policy to criticize, especially the events that led to the rise of Cambodian dictator Pol Pot in the first place. Propping a corrupt, undemocratic regime like Lon Nol's and the bombing campaign that spilt in from Vietnam did not win America any friends, but the atrocities inflicted by the Khmer Rouge can hardly be likened to anything we have done any time in our history. So on that point please shut up, Christiane.

While it's too bad this under-examined issue was placed in her exaggerative stewardship, but it was probably her idea in the first place or it would not be aired. So for that I offer begrudging appreciation.

I wish fellow conservatives, and especially my evangelical brothers and sisters, would move genocide and other like evils that humanity cannot seem to eradicate -- namely trafficking and child exploitation -- up their priority ladder. I understand and agree with the intense emotion against abortion in the U.S., but state-sponsored (or –permitted) massacre, slavery, and the commoditization of children at least equally devalue human life.

Looking at the annual State Department Trafficking in Persons Report, the situation would seem hopeless. The details lay out scenarios only the sickest minds would conceive, much less act upon. Topics include "trafficking for forced begging," "children exploited for commercial sex," "boy victims of commercial sexual exploitation," "child sex tourism," and "street children and trafficking." One excerpt from the 295-page report:

An estimated two million children worldwide face the horrors of exploitation in the transnational sex trade. Child sex tourism involves people who travel to engage in commercial sex acts with children. The lives of such prostituted children are appalling. Studies indicate that each of these children may be victimized by 100 to 1,500 perpetrators per year.

That such activity is so widespread can cause those of us in a seemingly more civilized world to shut it out of our minds. Add contemporary genocide, as we hear about in Darfur, and a good many Westerners might just wish it away as a fiction.

In the midst of such darkness it's hard to be optimistic, but there are reasons to believe people and nations can recover from such circumstances. It can't be expected to happen overnight, but if more freedom lovers nurse it along it could happen faster.

My visit last month to Cambodia showed promise, for example. Thirty years ago Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge emptied Phnom Penh and other cities of its people in its warped, despicable attempt to establish a self-sustaining agrarian society. The country became an everyone's-equal land of peasantry in which opponents of the regime -- both ginned up and real -- were eliminated. About one-quarter of Democratic Kampuchea's estimated 8 million people were killed or starved to death.

Today Phnom Penh is alive. Every day its streets fill with vehicles -- mostly motorbikes -- and pedestrians and vendors cover most of its sidewalks. It seems all of its estimated 1.4 million people are out and about. The poverty persists and much of the city is still in disrepair, but it no longer is the ghost town it was reported to be under Pol Pot.

Cambodia is still recovering, of course, and will for some time. Years of internal war after the Vietnamese forced the Khmer Rouge from power further delayed any hope for rapid restoration. The regime killed off most of its educated population, leaving the country with a much lower literacy rate than its neighbors. Infrastructure and health care are poor. Corruption pervades nearly every level of government, and the country is considered one of the top destinations for child sex trafficking, as well as for forced labor and begging.

But there are many reasons for hope, as urban areas have seen outside investment (especially from China) pour in, and the government thirsts for more. Cambodia is considered more market-friendly than neighboring Laos and Vietnam. And according to the Trafficking in Persons Report, even enforcement and corruption challenges show improvement, noting solid efforts to improve prosecution, protection of victims, and prevention.

Another positive sign I personally witnessed: greater acceptance of religious diversity. Last month the first-ever Cambodia Christian Leadership Conference was held, which drew ministry, church, and house church leaders from nearly every province to Phnom Penh. More than 400 men and women attended with unity and outreach as their goals. In a historic moment Plork Phorn, the nation's Minister of Religion for Christianity, told attendees (in Khmer), "You have my assurance that you will have the freedom to practice your religion in your provinces." This was no small gesture in a country that is 95 percent Buddhist, where many others practice animism, and persecution of Christians (less than two percent of the population) occurs regularly. That only 30 years ago all religion was outlawed makes Plork's statement -- which never could have been uttered even just two years ago -- a near-miracle.

It's achievements like these, many of which are at least partly inspired by free societies like the U.S., that reporters like Amanpour miss. Yes, draw attention to the horrors, but don't forget to show successful ways out. While you're at it, don't manufacture false (im)moral equivalence.

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About the Author

Paul Chesser publishes CarolinaPlottHound.com, a news aggregator for North Carolina, and is a contributor of articles, research and investigative reports for both national and state-level free-market think tanks.