Significant numbers of victims participating as civil parties in the Khmer Rouge tribunal proved to be in the dark on key facts in Case 002, according to a new report, a situation advocates say could lead to a sense of miscarried justice.
The Voices for Reconciliation report turned up a mixed bag of responses on media outreach efforts engaging regime survivors, and found only half of civil parties – victims of the regime who give evidence in the trials and are entitled to reparations – knew the case had been appealed.
While the majority knew former regime leaders Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan had been found guilty, more than half thought the conviction was for genocide, rather than crimes against humanity.
Almost half again could not correctly name all four of the original accused in the case, including the late Ieng Sary and Ieng Thirith.
According to Latt Ky, the head of rights group Adhoc’s Khmer Rouge tribunal section, if civil parties did not know the facts and scope of the case, they would find it difficult to follow the court and “feel that it is not fair justice”.
“Information is very important for the population so they can assert it, they can recognise the judgement and they can assess the fairness of the trial,” he said.
“If they do not know . . . then what does it mean? What is meaningful to them?”
The report’s authors noted that civil parties’ confusion about the convictions raised “the question of the importance or even the relevance of distinguishing between facts and legal terms especially in a context in which the population’s experiential knowledge could clash with the legal nomenclature”.
Trial observer Long Panhavuth said while legal definitions were vital for the historical record, they were not the primary concern of victims.
“It doesn’t matter whether or not Nuon Chea appealed . . . the most relevant thing for the victim is that [the court] takes into account their story,” he said.
The report surveyed more than 100 civil parties along with 38 civil party representatives – civil parties who serve as liaisons between Adhoc outreach staff and other civil parties. Case 002 has 3,866 civil parties overall.
The representatives showed a greater understanding of the case details than other civil parties, and they were also more sceptical about the international court’s neutrality, the fairness of the judges and “significantly more critical of the national justice system”.
The 78-page report, published on March 24, was the result of an outreach project funded by USAID and implemented by the East West Center and Stanford University’s WSD HANDA Center for Human Rights and International Justice.