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In the End, a Loss of Faith in the Tribunal: Former Complainant

Seng Theary, president of the Center for Justice and Reconciliation.
Seng Theary, president of the Center for Justice and Reconciliation.
Sok KhemaraVOA Khmer

Seng Theary, an outspoken Cambodian-American lawyer who publicly withdrew her complaint from the Khmer Rouge tribunal this week, says she did so because her voice and the voice of other victims were being excluded from the UN-backed court.

“I had been patient for six years, with hope, hope, hope that the court was going to give something to me,” she said on “Hello VOA” Wednesday. “Finally, it caused me to lose heart and confidence.”

Seng Theary, who heads an association representing more than 3,800 victims of the regime, withdrew her complaint for cases 003 and 004, which have come under intense criticism for their handling by the court’s investigating judges.

Seng Theary, who lost both her parents and other relatives to the regime, said Wednesday the court had damaged the confidence of Cambodians in its ability provide justice through trials of Khmer Rouge leaders. The court will now need to restore that confidence, she said, something she doubts it will be able to do.

“The court is mocking us, causing us to lose confidence, covering up impunity and abolishing justice…abolishing our means to seek truth,” she said.

She said the court’s decision not to allow civil party complainants to directly address the accused also factored into her decision. Victims need more chances to speak to the accused directly, she said.

The inexperience of court officials was also damaging, she said.

An effective court would be able to help people by giving them a chance to hear the truth and express themselves, she said.

“When we have deep losses like this, we need an opportunity and a place that we can cry out the sorrow within ourselves before we can feel relief and be happy again,” she said. “But in our society, they have not opened an opportunity for our brothers and sisters who need to cry.”

Tribunal spokesman Huy Vannak said Seng Theary had the right to withdraw her complaint, but it would not affect the legal proceedings of the court. The court is preparing to try three leaders in Case 002, which includes some 4,000 civil party complainants, he said.

However, some observers say that her complaint was another indictment of a court that has not lived up to its promise.

“The international tribunal was supposed to be an example, that those responsible for mass murder, crimes against humanity and war crimes, and other violations of international law, as clearly defined in the Geneva Conventions, anywhere in the world, cannot use mass murder as a tool to gain or keep power and get away with it,” said Nate Thayer, an American journalist with extensive Cambodian experience. “It has done the opposite. It has reinforced impunity. It sends a message that the international community has no commitment and cannot be relied on to bring those guilty to justice—not just in Cambodia, but anywhere in the world, where the next murderous dictators will understand the message that if they commit unspeakable suffering against innocent civilians they will get away with it.”

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