UNITED NATIONS -- Arn Chorn and Dith Pran have seen the massacre of innocent Cambodians and lived to tell about it. Now they want to know why the world has not risen up, as it did against Nazi war criminals, to punish those responsible.
Chorn, Pran and other survivors of the Cambodian killing fields have appealed to the United Nations for prosecution of now-deposed Khmer Rouge leaders who ordered the execution of millions of people during a three-year reign of terror. They also have sent letters to President Reagan and other heads of state seeking justice.
'We are asking you to respond and take legal and diplomatic action against the Khmer Rouge genocide. First by seeking a judgment from the International Court of Justice that the terrible crime and great harm of genocide was committed against the people of Cambodia and ... second the United States should call upon the competent organs of the United Nations to take such actions as would securely preclude the re-occurence of genocide in Cambodia.'
When China-backed Khmer Rouge troops captured Phnom Penh on April 17, 1975, leader Pol Pot ordered the nation 'purified' -- which meant the eradication of Western influence. Phnom Penh and other cities were evacuated, forcing even the sick and elderly to an uncertain future in rural areas.
Years later the world discovered that possibly 2 million Cambodians died between April 1975 and the end of 1978. Survivors say the figure is closer to 3 million dead from execution, starvation and disease.
In 1978 the Khmer Rouge was overrun by invading Vietnamese troops, which have since installed their own puppet government.
Pran's escape was depicted in the Academy Award winning movie 'The Killing Fields,' in which he was portrayed by compatriot Haing Ngor. Pran is now a photographer for the New York Times.
Chorn, now a student at Brown University, was 8 years old when Khmer Rouge troops captured Phnom Penh. He came to the United States in 1983, one of 200 unaccompanied orphans adopted by Americans.
In an interview, Chorn talked of the misery he endured for three years in Wat Eik, a prison-execution center in Battambang province. He said there were 500 orphans in Wat Eik temple.
'No one who was sent to Wat Eik ever got out,' he said. 'They were all killed. Most of the time there were 200 people at a time, then they would be emptied out and a new 200 would come.'
'Killing happened every day, in the morning, in the evening, every day. Sometimes they would kill people right in front of the children's center. All the children watched. They wanted the children to watch ... they wanted to provide an example to the children.'
Even if genocide charges reach the International Court of Justice in The Hague, it is unlikely there would be Nuremberg-type trials such as those organized by the Allied armies in 1945 to try the Nazis.
All of the accused Khmer Rouge leaders, those still alive, are free and beyond reach of any legal authorities. The International Court of Justice cannot order their arrest, nor can it send them to jail.
The most the court could do is review the case, and if it determines mass killings did occur it can issue an 'advisory opinion' condemning the killers.
Australian Ben Kiernan, who investigated the Cambodian massacre for Columbia University's Center for the Study of Human Rights, said the worst killings were near the border with Vietnam, where he 100,000 died in six months.
Survivors told him the Khmer Rouge targeted soldiers of former U.S.-backed regimes, intellectuals, religious people and ethnic minorities.
David Hawk, head of the Cambodian Documentation Commission in New York who has visited Cambodia several times, said the Khmer Rouge at first escaped justice because ensuing governments focused attention on the famine and caring for refugees.
In April, Hawk's commission, supported by the Pran, Chorn and other Cambodian survivors, petitioned Reagan and 30 other governments to bring the case before the International Court.
Hawk said Pol Pot, former foreign minister Ieng Sary, and Tha Mok, a troop commander who carried out Pol Pot's orders, should be tried immediately. All three are believed still in Cambodia. Pol Pot is reportedly ill and has been relieved as commander of some 30,000 troops fighting the Vietnamese inside Cambodia.
Other members of the small Khmer Rouge politburo are to be prosecuted too, but their whereabouts are not known or even if they are still alive.
The Khmer Rouge is now part of a three-party coalition government-in-exile headed by Cambodian Prince Norodom Sihanouk, which is trying to end the Vietnamese occupation.
The exiled government is recognized by the United Nations as a rebuff to Vietnam. Washington also supports the Sihanouk coalition, but has condemned the killings.
Some U.N. diplomats believe that an outright diplomatic attack on the Khmer Rouge will weaken the coalition and bolster Vietnam's position, a scenario not favored by Western governments. Such double standard has allowed the Khmer Rouge to maintain their political presence in the face of condemnation.
The Soviet-backed Vietnamese leaders say they did the world a service by ousting Pol Pot and want their puppet regime recognized.