Many victims who applied to take part in proceedings at the Khmer Rouge tribunal are still not ready to reconcile with Khmer Rouge perpetrators, despite progress since the first public trial, a recent survey shows.
More than 60 percent of 226 civil party applicants surveyed by the Berlin Center for the Treatment of Torture Victims (bzfo) denied being ready, with 40 percent answering “not at all.”
However, there was a positive shift compared to before the trial of S-21 prison chairman Kaing Guek Eav, alias Duch, when half of the group was not prepared “at all,” according to findings released at a Friday conference on Khmer Rouge victims’ mental health.
“More people said they were able to reconcile,” said Sebastian Burchert, local project coordinator for bzfo.
Although only about one-third of respondents knew that July’s verdict gave Duch 19 more years to serve, about two-thirds reported satisfaction with the verdict. However, only 20 percent said they would hand down a term of similar length.
Presenting her findings, Phuong Pham, director of research at the Human Rights Center at the University of California, Berkeley, said about 80 percent of 57 participants she interviewed had noted overall satisfaction with legal proceedings.
Positive moments for interviewees included being recognized as civil parties, as well as witnessing Duch’s admissions of guilt and sentencing, she said.
However, not being allowed to question character witnesses and receiving almost no reparations were viewed negatively, she added. “In general, they thought [the sentence] was too short.”
Oeung Jeudy, program officer at the Cambodia Human Rights Action Committee, said that former Khmer Rouge perpetrators often see themselves as victims and have integrated into society to live alongside their victims.
“Can existence of the ECCC alone bring reconciliation between the two groups?” Mr Jeudy asked, noting that responsible people at low levels may consider themselves far removed from legal proceedings against top leaders.