Interviews with more than 1,000 Cambodians young and old from every district in the nation show that a modest but clear majority are in favor of additional prosecutions at the Khmer Rouge tribunal and have sided with UN prosecutors who are seeking to bring more than five Khmer Rouge cadres to justice, according to a report completed Thursday by the Documentation Center of Cambodia.
The survey, conducted among 1,110 people in all 186 districts during the first week of February, found that 56.8 percent support the pursuit of more Khmer Rouge suspects, while a sizable minority, 41.4 percent, agrees with Cambodian Co-Prosecutor Chea Leang, who believes the tribunal should try only its five current detainees.
“They are in favor of prosecution,” said Chy Terith, who managed the survey for DC-Cam’s victim participation project.
The survey, conceived by DC-Cam in January, aimed to allow the public to weigh in on a decision now before the tribunal’s Pre-Trial Chamber, which is currently pondering whether to allow additional prosecutions sought by UN Co-Prosecutor Robert Petit.
Chy Terith said the DC-Cam survey had been evenly weighted among three distinct social groups: so-called “new people,” or city-dwellers expelled from urban centers by the Khmer Rouge as part of an effort to recast Cambodian society, “base people,” or those who already lived in the countryside and enjoyed a higher status during the regime, and adults between the ages of 20 and 30, who are too young to have known life under the regime.
Given the select groups in the survey sample, the finding may give only a general indication as to the state of national opinion, he added.
Thursday’s report provided no geographic breakdown for results, so that variances of opinion could not be compared among regions.
Among those younger than 30, views of right and wrong were far more clear-cut, and support for additional prosecutions rose to 67.5 percent.
“To them, justice is that those who are guilty, those who commit a crime, should be punished,” said Chy Terith.
“One of the girls [surveyed] said, the UN, who are not Khmer, want to prosecute more, and that’s for us. We should be happy about that. Justice is for us,” Chy Terith recounted.
Sources familiar with Petit’s preliminary investigations, conducted over the course of a year, say he has identified an additional six Khmer Rouge suspects, but that one, former Commerce Minister Van Rith, died in November, only three weeks before Petit began the disagreement resolution process.
In a joint statement by the prosecutors in January, Chea Leang said she believed additional prosecutions should not proceed due to Cambodia’s past instability, the tribunal’s limited resources and the spirit of the 2003 UN treaty establishing the court, which called only for “senior leaders” of the regime and “those who were most responsible” to be tried.
The DC-Cam survey found that 56.6 percent of those surveyed said they did not believe additional prosecutions would lead to public disorder while 37.6 percent said this was a risk. Fifty-three percent said they felt justice would not be done if only five people were prosecuted.
Chy Terith said that, among those opposed to additional prosecutions, many felt that they could complicate the work of the court and reduce the likelihood that it would accomplish its task in time.
“It’s been 30 years, and they feel that five is enough,” he said, adding that some opposed to further prosecutions feared that, if too wide-ranging, they could ensnare current government leaders or former King Norodom Sihanouk, who briefly served as head of state under Democratic Kampuchea.
The survey also found that, over all, 92.7 percent expressed “strong support” for the tribunal’s work.
In an amicus brief submitted by DC-Cam on Thursday for consideration by the Pre-Trial Chamber, Harvard University law student Joanna Geneve said that Petit and Chea Leang do not appear to disagree on whether there is sufficient evidence to justify additional prosecutions, meaning the Pre-Trial Chamber may instead seek to focus on whether Chea Leang’s objections are substantial enough to prevent such prosecutions.
The tribunal’s procedural rules say the co-prosecutors shall open new cases if they have reason to believe crimes within the court’s jurisdiction have been committed, Geneve observed.
While prosecutors may consider “subjective” factors, such as those raised in Chea Leang’s objections, “none of the factors the National Co-Prosecutor raises appear to militate strongly against forwarding new submissions to the Co-Investigating Judges,” she wrote.
Tribunal Public Affairs Chief Helen Jarvis said Thursday the court had no announcement to make as yet concerning the process of the Pre-Trial Chamber’s deliberations on the disagreement.