Almost a week after the Khmer Rouge tribunal found Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan guilty of crimes against humanity, a panel that included government and court spokespeople, a defense lawyer and a survivor of the regime came together at Meta House on Wednesday night to discuss the court’s past and its future.
Despite last week’s convictions—which are not final until the Supreme Court Chamber has ruled on the appeals—the court has been widely criticized for having spent hundreds of millions of dollars and taken nearly a decade to reach a verdict against a senior regime leader.
The tribunal’s legal communications officer, Lars Olsen, said there had been “no shortage of people” who were pessimistic about the hearing of cases beyond that of Kaing Gaek Eav, alias Duch, the head of the notorious S-21 prison.
“People said it would be the only trial, that Duch would be a scapegoat. They said there would never be a second trial, that [the defendants] would die, that the government would not allow it—yet we are here today, two trials and three convictions later,” he said.
Youth for Peace program manager Nou Va, however, said that disillusionment was still rife among Cambodians at grassroots level.
“We carried out an informal survey of 50 people in seven provinces…and 47 people out of those 50 said the court has taken too long to sentence, pronounce a verdict—they still feel disappointed. They feel they are waiting a long time for justice,” he said.
Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said last week’s verdicts, which saw Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan jailed for life, was like “the magic word delayed for so long.”
“[It is our] job…to support the court. We do not just support it by money,” he said.
But Prime Minister Hun Sen has publicly and vociferously opposed cases 003 and 004 on a number of occasions, claiming that the prosecution of lower-level officials could destabilize the country.
When asked by a reporter if the government intends to further stymie those cases, Mr. Siphan said: “Let the court decide that. The government has no mandate to decide that one…. We don’t submit pressure and we respect together through the principles we decided.”
Helen Jarvis, the former head of the court’s public affairs and victims’ support sections, said it is worth asking just how long the court should continue its work.
“I think we need to take stock and say what have we achieved with Case 001 and Case 002 and what can we achieve by further cases,” Ms. Jarvis said.
“What were the objectives of the court and how long should this thing go on? There is the cost, but not only that, but also the focus of the country, resources of the country. In terms of legal reform, we have many of the best judges working for what we thought would be a few years—how long should it go on?”
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