Heng Bin was so angry Sunday when he heard the UN had pulled out of the Khmer Rouge tribunal he could barely get the words out.
He blamed the government of Prime Minister Hun Sen—not the UN—for the decision. “What a stupid government!” said the 38-year-old motorcycle taxi driver, contending it should have been more skillful in negotiating with the world body.
He fears that the UN pullout may hurt Cambodia’s image in the world. At the same time, he said the UN should not have walked away from something as important to the Cambodian people as bringing the Khmer Rouge leaders to justice.
“The UN should have more tolerance,” he said, and added he feared the Cambodian courts are too corrupt to deliver justice in such an important case.
Heng Bin’s views were echoed by a number of people interviewed Sunday in Phnom Penh.
Sun Vuth, a palm juice vendor from Svay Rieng province, said she doesn’t believe local courts will perform to international standards in seeking justice for more than 1 million Cambodian deaths. She said everyone knows the local courts take money from the guilty and let them go free to victimize others, while protecting the rich who prey upon the poor.
“How can we believe that our courts will give justice to the victims if they are so corrupt they turn black to white and white to black?” she demanded.
The 35-year-old mother of five would prefer a mixed court, with both Cambodian and UN-appointed international judges. “With the foreigners participating in the trial, we can be sure it will find justice,” she said. “Foreigners are frank and helpful. If they take part, they will help us.
“I don’t want a junk court, but a court of justice to give justice to our victims. I lost five of my mother’s siblings to the genocidal regime.”
She said she is furious with the Khmer Rouge, and she wants the guilty leaders killed as they killed innocent people. “If we don’t try them in a credible court, the victims will never have peace of mind.”
Without an internationally accepted verdict, she said, what is to stop the Khmer Rouge “from returning and killing us?”
At the Royal Palace, armed guard Ouch Pho said he was very unhappy. “If the UN pulls out and we do it alone, I fear the world won’t recognize our trial,” he said. “That would be a waste of time and money.”
He hopes the UN will reconsider its decision. “Cambodians need [UN] support to make the trial credible and acceptable,” he said.
Tim Phally, a cyclo driver from Kompong Cham province, said the international community should keep trying to hold the tribunal, but that it was up to the Cambodian leadership to decide.
Chen Hum, a 79-year-old from Prey Veng province, said he thinks Cambodian courts can rise above their limitations to find justice. “We should leave this to the King, Queen, and Mr. Hun Sen to decide,” he said.