Trials Compete With Everyday Needs, Poll Finds

75% aware of Khmer Rouge tribunal, up from 61% in 2008

As it prepares to start one of the most complex trials in living memory this month, the Khmer Rouge tribunal enjoys increasing favorability among the Cambo­dian public, whose awareness of the court’s work is also on the rise, according to a new nationwide opinion poll.

However, the survey, which was conducted over 20 days in De­cem­ber to update the results of a similar poll taken in 2008, found that sizable and growing majorities of Cambodians feel that justice and accountability for the Khmer Rouge era are lesser priorities than economic and social development.

The recently completed trial of Kaing Guek Eav, alias Duch, the overseer of a campaign of extermination by the Khmer Rouge secret police, earned a positive reception. But half of respondents expressed frustration that the accused was given “too much time…to explain himself” and 56 percent said not enough time was allotted for his victims to speak.

Conducted for the Human Rights Center at the University of California Berkeley School of Law, the poll questioned 1,000 adults in 250 villages, the same vil­lages that were randomly se­lected for a previous survey conducted in 2008.

Returning to these villages in 2010 helped reflect changing attitudes and awareness over time, according to the authors of an accompanying report.

The report did not address the current controversy surrounding investigations opposed by the government as a disagreement among the court’s prosecutors over these cases had not yet arisen in 2008, meaning no comparison was possible in 2010.

However, Patrick Vinck, one of the report’s authors and the director of the Human Rights Center’s Initiative for Vulnerable Populations, said yesterday that the results suggested that a failure to explain the court’s actions could erode increases in public’s good will in the future.

“The latest controversies of course may jeopardize that progress and this makes it very important to address the question of transparency,” said Mr Vinck.

The survey found that 84 percent of respondents believed the court would respond to Khmer Rouge crimes, 81 percent believed the trials would aid in national reconciliation (a view held by only 67 percent two years ago) and 76 percent believed it would deliver justice to the regime’s victims.

However, 83 percent also said it was more important for the state to address problems people encounter in their daily lives, such as poor health and lacking infrastructure. This represented a 7 percent increase over the share of respondents who gave similar answers in 2008.

“When you look at the situations in most Cambodians’ lives, here it is normal to prioritize the problems that you encounter,” said Mr Vinck. “I think that these priorities are reflected in how people would allocate their resources, but it does not mean that justice is not important.”

Three-quarters of those polled believed the court was neutral, an 8 percent increase over 2008. Among those who disagreed, about half pointed to the government or government appointment of judges as an explanation.

Such high numbers indicate that outreach efforts by the court and NGOs have been a success, according to Phuong Pham, research director at the Human Rights Center and an author the study. In Uganda, for example, only 59 percent of people polled were aware of the International Criminal Court four years after it began an investigation there, she said.

However, the report recommended that, in addition to ensuring transparency, the court should improve outreach efforts by increasing explanations, summaries and interviews with court staff in order to help the public understand dense and complex proceedings.

Lars Olsen, legal communications officer for the court, said outreach efforts had recently been enhanced and that the report would be studied. “We are always looking into new ways of further enhancing our public information and outreach activities,” he said.

 

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