A major US monitor of the UN-backed Khmer Rouge tribunal says the court needs to renew its efforts to keep people informed of its work.
The tribunal is preparing for the second and final phase of a trial for two leaders still in custody, Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan, but it has been plagued with financial problems and wavering donor support.
A survey recently completed by the US-based Open Society Justice Initiative showed that support of the court by Cambodians is slipping.
“The research also suggests that one of the main reasons for this diminished support is a lack of knowledge about the current status of the trial of the two most senior surviving Khmer Rouge leaders, Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea,” the report concludes.
Laura McGrew, a consultant for the Open Society Justice Initiative who conducted the study, said without outreach, the value of the tribunal decreases.
“In my opinion its primary purpose is for the Cambodians,” she told VOA Khmer. “And if they don’t know what’s happening, they can’t learn about it, they can’t learn about their history. So I think the outreach is crucial.”
The majority of people interviewed want the tribunal to go forward, she said. “But they really didn’t know much about what was going on with Case 002”—the case against Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan.
Latt Ky, a tribunal monitor for the rights group Adhoc, told VOA Khmer that many communities lack information on the tribunal. “That’s why as a strategy, we connect some positive legacies through victims who directly participate for justice, to make them exchange their opinions and the healing process with others who do not participate.”
OSJI is urging the tribunal and its donors to immediately improve on its communication efforts to spread new to the Cambodian public.
Tribunal spokesman Neth Pheaktra, told VOA Khmer the court’s outreach has been on a regular schedule. It holds forums in the provinces, meetings with students and offers victims and others a chance to visit the court outside Phnom Penh, he said.
“Every Tuesday and Thursday, we have 300 to 400 people who come to the court directly and listen to presentations by court officials, especially the public affairs section, about new developments of the court,” he said. News of the tribunal is frequently televised, whether a hearing is in session or not, he added.
McGrew said much of the news reaching Cambodians, though, is more negative than positive.
The court has been accused of mismanagement and corruption and has suffered from infighting and political interference, as well as a shortage of funds.
In the latest round of criticism, tribunal observers say the lawyers for four more suspects in two more potential cases—003 and 004—cannot move forward in defense preparations, because the tribunal has not indicted anyone else. Critics say those two cases particularly, which accuse lower-ranking cadre of atrocity crimes, are unlikely to move forward.
“For the good of Cambodia and the world, one hopes that the political web that threatens to strangle the prosecutions will be undone,” said Jeffrey Brand, director of the Center for Law and Global Justice at the University of San Francisco. “Otherwise, the tribunal’s greatest gift, its legacy of teaching the importance of the rule of law to future generations and reminding the world of the importance of accountability, may be imperiled.”