The Khmer Rouge tribunal should be considered beyond its legal proceedings and in the context of the healing process for Cambodians, a rights activist and civil party complainant said Friday.
“If we see this court as just a group of 15 or 20 people with prosecutors discussing among themselves, it is very weak, fragile, and wasting so much money,” Seng Theary, a Cambodian-American lawyer, told an audience at the National Press Club in Washington. “But we have seen that this court has provided lots of benefits to the public.”
“These include inspiring people to talk about their past, encouraging them to participate as civil party representatives or investigation or watch the court from a distance,” she said. “These are the advantages that should be expanded.”Seng Theary, who lost family members to the regime and is participating in trials of its leaders, said that many people who had never spoken about their suffering under the Khmer Rouge had begun to discuss it now. Some were even documenting their past for a younger generation to study.
Five Khmer Rouge leaders, including Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan, are awaiting trial at the UN-backed tribunal, in the court’s second case. The verdict from the first case, against prison chief Kaing Kek Iev, or Duch, is expected this month.
The court has cost between $40 million and $50 million per year, and donors have approved a budget of $85 million for the next two years.
Along the way, Seng Theary said, civil society organizations have conducted public forums to explain the importance of the court and seek ways to heal their wounds.
“Public forums organized by the center that I moderated and by other civil society organizations are working as a bridge for the court to provide important updates from the court to public,” she said. “It is not just about four or five people in custody, but about the benefit of the whole nation.
”Brandon Howard, who participated in Friday’s discussion, said the pursuit of justice could cause problems, “but seeking healing you’ll be able to move forwards.”