A survey of public opinion released Wednesday found that, while most Cambodians are interested in finding justice for victims of the Khmer Rouge, 85 percent say they have little or no knowledge of what the Khmer Rouge tribunal is actually doing.
Confidence in the tribunal runs high, however, with Cambodians roughly twice as likely to trust the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia as they do the national courts, according to the survey conducted by the Human Rights Center at the University of California-Berkeley.
But fewer than one in 10 of those surveyed knew that five Khmer Rouge regime suspects are awaiting trial at the ECCC, and only 3.3 percent of respondents could name the detainees.
More than a third of the respondents said they didn’t know what to expect from the court. More than half, however, knew the tribunal is a mixed national and international court.
“People are saying they want to know more about the court, they want to wish it well, but they don’t know much about the court,” said Eric Stover, one of the researchers.
“The problem is outreach always seems to be the poor orphan that’s left out of the funding pocket,” Stover said, adding the ECCC should do more to communicate and not leave it up to NGOs.
The survey, which was presented at a workshop Wednesday in Phnom Penh, was conducted in September and October on 1,000 people in 125 communes. It covered knowledge and expectations of the ECCC, as well as attitudes and feelings about the Khmer Rouge era. ECCC staff will be briefed separately about the findings today.
The question is, “Shouldn’t people be more aware at this stage when trials are about to start?” said Patrick Vinck, also a researcher.
“It’s very important. These trials won’t have any meaning if people don’t understand what’s happening, don’t know what’s happening, don’t take ownership of it.”
The main criticism of the ECCC was its slow pace—almost one in three respondents recommended it speed up trials—a concern that may now be alleviated by the announcement Monday that the trial of S-21 detention center chairman Duch will start Feb 17.
About two-thirds of respondents thought judges would be fair and the court neutral. Corruption was a concern for only about 3 percent of respondents, but researchers said allegations should be immediately addressed so perception of the court remains positive.
ECCC Public Affairs Chief Helen Jarvis, who is responsible for the court’s outreach, maintained the results of the survey were positive. She also challenged the validity of some of the survey’s results, saying that people may have shown “modesty” when answering.
“I am quite encouraged by the level of expectations and confidence in the court. If we compare with confidence in other institutions such as the court system and the media, it’s very positive,” she said.
Based on the survey results, the type of outreach efforts by the ECCC would not change, but their frequency would probably increase, she said, citing efforts such as public service announcements and a TV spot in the making.
The survey also found a lingering bitterness about Democratic Kampuchea and a strong desire to see those responsible for violence punished: 82.9 percent still feel hatred toward the regime, 37 percent want revenge, 71.5 percent want to see those responsible hurt or miserable. And half of those born after 1979 still feel victimized by the regime.
“Very few people said ‘forgive them.’ Very few people said ‘forget it, we want to move on,’” Vinck said.
The study also shows that four out of five Cambodians want to know more about the Khmer Rouge, with all their current information coming from personal experience or friends and family, and little from schools or media.
Expectations therefore run high for the ECCC to both administer severe punishments and unveil the truth about the regime, particularly how Cambodians could kill so many fellow Cambodians, researchers explained.
“One of my greatest fears is what I call ‘great expectations,’” Stover said, adding that many people might expect from the tribunal what is in fact the work of a truth commission.
“When people go to testify in a court, they don’t go just for eyewitness reports; they want to know why. Courts want only the facts.”