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Youth Abandoning Khmer Rouge Tribunal

Twenty-year-old Keo Sophany sat quietly in the compound of the Royal University of Phnom Penh recently, listening as her classmates discussed the Khmer Rouge tribunal.

Herself a history student, Keo Sophany had actively followed new about the tribunal, and she often thought about Cambodians who had been victims of the regime. Lately, though, her attention to the tribunal has fallen to “zero,” she said, after many delays brought no results.

“I don’t know why the trial is still the same,” she said. “I’m fed up. I usually want to listen to all kinds of stories, but for the Khmer Rouge, I’ve abandoned it. I don’t want to hear about it any more. I don’t care what people say about the Khmer Rouge. I’m not interested.”

Keo Sophany spoke on the eve of the initial hearing in the trial of Kaing Kek Iev, or Duch, which was held Tuesday, following many delays in a tribunal process that began in 2006—and even then after a decade of negotiations.

Keo Sophany is not alone among people her age.

“We were not victims of the Khmer Rogue regime, so it seems to me that I’m not interested in that tribunal, and I have never researched any information on it,” said Horm Sothun, an information technology student from Stung Treng province.

“I don’t have a deep understanding of the Khmer Rouge trials,” said Chan Sothea, a young employee at a company. “I want them to explain to us, to make us have more understanding.”

A recent survey conducted by researched at the University of California Berkeley found that the young generation has little information on the UN-Cambodian tribunal, which is attempting to try five former leaders of the regime for atrocity crimes.

The survey found that 80 percent of people not born under the Khmer Rouge know little or nothing about the regime.

Youk Chhang, director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia, which has spent many years researching the Khmer Rouge, takes issue with the survey.

While they may not know about the tribunal specifically, Cambodian youths know about the regime through their families, he said. Still, the tribunal was supposed to be for the young, he said.

“Why did we open the court?” he asked recently. “It is for the youth. The youth’s participation is the most important thing. When the youth stop following the information, it means we have lost an opportunity to sharpen their intelligence. So the court should worry about that, because they will lose support.”

Helen Jarvis, head of public affairs for the tribunal, said the office would continue to spread information about the tribunal to the young. It had already made many programs for various radio stations, as well as issuing thousands of leaflets, she said.