Khmer Rouge Tribunal Urged to Step Up Outreach

NEW YORK—New research by the Open Society Justice Initiative has highlighted the need for the Khmer Rouge tribunal in Cambodia and its main donors to support renewed efforts to keep the Cambodian people informed about its work.

Preliminary results from over 100 interviews conducted in rural and urban areas of Cambodia show that support for the tribunal, known as the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, has slightly diminished since similar surveys conducted the first two years of its operations.

However, the research also suggests that one of the main reasons for this diminished support is a lack of knowledge about the current status of the trial of the two most senior surviving Khmer Rouge leaders, Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea. The first stage of the trial in what is known as Case 002 ended in October last year, with a judgment expected in coming months.

Laura McGrew, the Justice Initiative consultant who conducted the surveys, noted:

“Only a handful of interviewees had seen any televised segments of the Case 002 trial. In comparison, the Case 001 trial of Kaing Guek Eav, the former head of the Tuol Sleng prison and torture center, was televised and widely viewed in 2009 and 2010.”

McGrew’s preliminary findings are based on interviews conducted in December and January in the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh, as well as in the provinces and municipalities of Battambang, Kep, Kampot and the former Khmer Rouge stronghold of Pailin. Those interviewed included farmers, village leaders, students, government officials and NGO staffers.

McGrew noted that although progress has been made in Case 002, with mountains of evidence presented and hundreds of witnesses called, much of the news coverage has been related to the ECCC’s delays, conflict between national and international court officials, funding crises, and corruption allegations.

“While these problems have certainly been major stumbling blocks, the lack of exposure to news about the substance and progress on the trial is defeating one of the major purposes of the ECCC—to bring justice and healing to the Cambodian people,” she said.

Despite the evident lack of information on the current status of Case 002, the interviews demonstrated broad support for the trial of the two former Khmer Rouge leaders. Finding out the truth about events during the Khmer Rouge years was of great importance to the interviewees.

The Justice Initiative is therefore urging the ECCC and its donors to immediately improve the efforts by the ECCC to communicate news about the process to the Cambodian public. These efforts should include:

  • widespread and real-time television coverage especially on Government-controlled channels;
  • the production of at least weekly synopses of important events and developments reduced to understandable short summaries especially for rural populations for print, radio, and TV media, and for distribution to NGOs;
  • increased funding for NGOs and the ECCC to revamp outreach and memorialization efforts which have lost funding, including short video productions to reach illiterate populations;
  • improved distribution of outreach materials especially to rural areas; and
  • improved transparency of the ECCC and improved explanations of the legal process especially the reasons for the length and costs of international trials, and the meaning of ‘senior leaders most responsible’.

In Case 002, Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan are currently awaiting judgment on an initial set of charges against them, focused on their responsibility for the evacuation of the civilian population of Cambodia’s cities in April, 1975, and events at a single execution site outside Phnom Penh. No date has yet been set for the start of their trial on other charges, which include war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. Both men are in their 80s.

Of the two other original defendants in the case, Ieng Sary died last year, while his wife Ieng Thirith was declared mentally unfit for trial in 2011.

Two other cases, known as Cases 003 and 004, are also before the tribunal’s investigative judges.

The Justice Initiative has been monitoring the work of the tribunal since before it began operations in 2007, as part of its work to ensure accountability for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.