Uk Samnang, 27, doesn’t know exactly how the government will go about trying former leaders of the Khmer Rouge. He’s been too busy trying to make a living to pay attention to the diplomatic wrangling that has transpired in recent months.
But he does know this: Five of his cousins and uncles were killed during the Pol Pot regime, and he wants justice.
He isn’t the only justice-starved Cambodian to lose track of events. Now that the government is on the verge of finalizing a plan to proceed with or without the UN, some lawmakers and NGO workers are concerned that many of the victims the trial is intended to serve don’t seem to be aware of what’s going on.
Funcinpec Senator Kem Sokha, chairman of the law-making body’s human rights commission, said Wednesday that he has proposed a plan to hold a public forum in January to discuss the trial and gather opinions. Some NGO workers say they are discussing the possibility of holding similar forums in the countryside.
“We want to exchange ideas and experiences about the trial in a constructive manner,” said Kem Sokha, who served as the National Assembly’s human rights chair from 1993-97. “And we are concerned that the public be well informed of the process.”
An unscientific poll of Phnom Penh street goers Wednesday revealed that few were aware the government has drafted a law aimed at punishing those responsible for more than one million deaths between 1975-79.
Only two out of 10 people interviewed had heard Prime Minister Hun Sen’s nationally broadcast speech earlier this month announcing he planned to submit the trial plan to the Council of Ministers before the end of the year.
Of the two, one said he wasn’t paying attention while he listened to the speech. The other said he did not know what had happened after the plan was submitted, and that he wasn’t sure what was in it. Most expressed concern that the Cambodian courts would not yield a fair verdict, but none could comment on safeguards proposed by the government.
“I know nothing about the situation,” said Mom Ran, 52, who lost two children during the Pol Pot regime. “I want justice for them. I prefer an international tribunal because they committed crimes against the world not just Cambodia alone. But I do not know what will happen.”
Even less information is likely available in the countryside, where fewer people read the newspaper, some believe.
“I think a public hearing is a great idea,” said Kek Galabru, founder of the local human rights organization Licadho. “We would like very much that people ask questions about what will happen, because they are the victims and have opinions. But most people do not know the details of what is going on.”
Kek Galabru is a member of a committee consisting of 17 NGOs which has met in recent months to discuss the tribunal issue. Last January, they polled almost 100,000 Cambodians—and found widespread support for an international tribunal. She said the action group plans to discuss holding hearings in the provinces at a meeting after the New Year.
At least one CPP lawmaker says he supports Kem Sokha’s proposal.
“It is a good idea,” Senator Pov Savath said. “We should listen to the public ideas about the issue. Because this is not for any specific group.”
Kem Sokha said he wants to hold the hearing in late January, but is still seeking donor funding.