Landmark Khmer Rouge genocide trial: Do Cambodians care?
The Cambodian government is stepping up efforts to inform the country about the Khmer Rouge's bloody rule.
Phnom Penh, Cambodia
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But on the streets of the capital, many ordinary Cambodians seemed unsure about what exactly was unfolding and why they should take time out from their daily struggles to pay attention. Others expressed bafflement at the circuitous path of the hearings, the rights afforded to truculent suspects and the tribunal’s lavish budget in a war-ravaged country mired in poverty.
“They spent a lot of money. So where is the verdict?” asks Kosal Kong, a motorized-cart driver who lost relatives during the Khmer Rouge’s 1975-79 genocidal reign.
In fact, the tribunal last year convicted a prison-camp director who confessed to war crimes. But the leaders currently on trial are bigger names, particularly for Cambodians who lived through that dark period. But a survey taken in December found that most Cambodians can't name the four leaders, though overall awareness of the tribunal was on the increase. A quarter of respondents said they knew nothing about it. In 2008, the equivalent figure was 39 percent, according to the University of California, Berkley, which carried out the surveys.
Efforts to publicize trials stepped up
Officials at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), say they’re stepping up efforts to publicize the latest trials. “We need to work harder to bring more people to come here. The people are the victims of the Khmer Rouge. They want to know what happened,” says Neth Pheaktra, an ECCC spokesman.
During this week’s hearings, the ECCC bussed in hundreds of villagers from across the country to watch from the 482-seat public gallery. At least 100,000 Cambodians have visited the tribunal since 2005, said Mr. Neth. Many others have attended public screenings of official documentaries on the court’s proceedings.
The hearings are also broadcast live on radio and television, though Chea Sopha, the owner of a roadside café said her customers preferred to watch a movie channel. She said she was too busy to attend but was supportive of putting the leaders on trial so that Cambodians could know the truth. “It’s good to know what the Khmer Rouge regime did in the past,” she says.
At another cafe in a bus station, a middle-aged man said the government was using the tribunal to cover up its own actions. He said the Khmer Rouge had killed his mother, aunt, and grandmother, and a guilty verdict for the leaders would not bring them back.