Hun Sen, who has led the country in one capacity or another since 1979, joined the Khmer Rouge, the murderers of more than two million people from 1975 to 1979, and came back with the Vietnamese army to overthrow Pol Pot and his butchers.
But the current Cambodian leader has ruled his country through censorship, cronyism, and corruption. He has served as Cambodia’s premier for more than 25 years, making him the longest-serving head of government of Cambodia and one of the longest-serving leaders in the world.
It doesn’t take much to get Cambodians to complain about their government. An “election” will be held in two years to select a new government, but most of the opposition sits in prison.
The contrasts are readily apparent in a trip I took through the slums of Phnom Penh, where the average worker earns less than $1,000 a year. People live in hovels with dirt floors, with no access to clean water or the simple necessities of life. A young woman—pregnant with her fourth child—could no longer work in the sex parlors of the city.
Kaing Guek Eav, better known as Comrade Duch, was convicted of crimes against humanity and in 2012 was sentenced to life imprisonment. He headed the Khmer Rouge’s internal security branch and oversaw the Tuol Sleng, or S-21, prison camp where thousands were held for interrogation and torture.
Time described the trials as “a shocking failure.” But others, including some in the current regime, remain untouched. Similar trials in the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, and elsewhere resulted in numerous convictions.
In April, Angelina Jolie organized a re-creation of the Khmer Rouge invasion of Cambodia for a film she’s directing. The event sent chills throughout Phnom Penh as people posted online their memories of that time.
“Seeing these scenes, remembering the true story during that regime … the pain and will never be forgotten,” posted one Facebook user.
Unfortunately, it’s also unlikely that Cambodia will see substantial changes anytime soon.