Few Cambodians have full knowledge of the Khmer Rouge tribunal, and one-third of those who do say they doubt the court is neutral, a recent academic survey has revealed.
An ECCC civil party holds a photograph of her sister, who was killed in Tuol Sleng prison, at her home in Prey Veng.
Had no knowledge of the ECCC - 39 percent
Had limited knowledge of the ECCC - 46 percent
Said they would watch the ECCC proceedings if broadcast on live TV - 98 percent
Did not know what the ECCC would achieve - 37 percent
Believed former Khmer Rouge should be held accountable for their crimes - 90 percent
Believed reparations should go to victims - 88 percent
SOURCE: HUMAN RIGHTS CENTRE,
A SURVEY released Wednesday found that 85 percent of Cambodians had little or no knowledge of the Khmer Rouge tribunal last September, nearly a full year after all five of the former Khmer Rouge leaders who are currently detained had been charged and taken into custody.
In addition to this lack of knowledge, the survey pointed to some public doubts about the court's objectivity: One-third of respondents familiar with the tribunal said they did not believe the court was neutral, with 23 percent saying it was corrupt.
In conducting the survey, the Human Rights Centre at the University of California, Berkeley (UC-Berkeley), interviewed 1,000 Cambodians in all 24 provinces and municipalities between September 9 and October 1. A report detailing the results was presented Wednesday at a day-long conference at the Sunway Hotel.
Helen Jarvis, the court's chief of public affairs, disputed the findings, saying that the results were "not consistent with our own feedback in the field". She pointed to a February 2008 survey released by the International Republican Institute that reported a higher level of public knowledge about the tribunal. In that survey, which involved 2,000 interviews, 71 percent of respondents said they "were aware of the Khmer Rouge tribunal that is putting top leaders of the Khmer Rouge on trial".
Jarvis questioned the wisdom of concluding from the Human Rights Centre data that the court had failed in advertising its mission and operations.
"The Berkeley report does not present any control data as to the extent of knowledge by their informants on other facts and developments in Cambodia or abroad, so we do not know if it is reporting a generalised deficit in knowledge, or a specific deficit in relation to the ECCC," she wrote in an email to the Post.
But Phuong Pham, director of research for the Human Rights Centre, said the report drew from a nationally representative sample and that researchers controlled for literacy and education levels, adding that she did not believe ignorance of the court was symptomatic of a broader knowledge deficit among respondents.
Call to raise awareness
The report called for a multipronged campaign to raise awareness, including the broadcasting of public service announcements and weekly summaries of trial proceedings on radio and television, frequent media interviews with judges and staff, and expanded educational materials.
"The only way this trial can be successful is if more people understand what is going on," said Patrick Vinck, director of the Initiative for Vulnerable Populations at UC-Berkeley.
Richard Rogers, interim chief of the court's defence support section, echoed this call for more outreach.
"I think that it's important for the court and for NGOs to deal with that issue by speaking on the radio and promoting the work of the court."
Rogers said it was concerning that one-third of respondents openly doubted the court's neutrality, but he said this was likely a reflection of how Cambodians perceive the national court system.
"Survey after survey has shown that many Cambodians are not satisfied with the way that their local courts function," he said. "They often feel that the courts are there to promote the interests of the powerful."
Pham said she expected public awareness of the tribunal to increase as the trials get under-way. Initial hearings for the trial of Tuol Sleng prison chief Kaing Guek Eav, or Duch, are scheduled to begin February 17.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY SARAH WHYTE