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Leaders of Civil Society speak out

Leaders of Civil Society speak out

The controversy over a planned tribunal for the former Khmer Rouge leaders has been

frequently reported in the press but, until recently, primarily in terms of the views

of the international community and the Royal Cambodian Government.

It is only in the last few weeks that the debate has opened up in Cambodia, with

a national conference organized by the Cambodian Institute for Cooperation and Peace,

public controversy over Senate member H.E. Kem Sokha's request to hold a public forum

in the Senate, and a public forum organized by the Center for Social Development

on National Reconciliation and the Khmer Rouge.

On January 26, Monh Saphan, chairman of the legislative committee of the National

Assembly invited comments from the public on the Khmer Rouge draft laws.

This special report is the first in a series which solicits the voice of Cambodians,

in an attempt to broaden the public discourse.

The series will include statements from leaders of civil society, as well as a summary

article bringing together views of Cambodians from many walks of life.

Laura McGrew is conducting a research project through focus group discussions, individual

interviews and informal questionnaire administration. The results will be presented

in a summary report, which will include the views of various sectors of society:

NGO and IO staff members, farmers, widows, persons with disabilities, youth, people

in war-affected areas and others. Views are being solicited from members of the major

political parties including Democratic Kampuchea, as well as from people who have

been living in the former Khmer Rouge areas.

During the course of the initial research, the majority of the Cambodians interviewed

stated they are feeling powerless to influence the debate about justice for the Khmer

Rouge. The majority feel that their voices are not being heard, and cannot be heard

on these important issues of truth, justice, reconciliation and peace.

Many feel that these issues affect their everyday life as well as the future of their

society, and they ask that their views be broadcast. At the same time, they worry

that the topic is sensitive and they do not dare speak openly about the issue. Many

Cambodians have expressed strong opinions, and these opinions vary widely and at

times change as the situation changes.

The study does not pre-suppose a trial for the Khmer Rouge leaders, but attempts

to open the discussion to include other options such as a truth commission or other

solutions. The overall question posed to the Cambodian people is, "How can Cambodian

society best be healed after the tragedies that occurred during the Khmer Rouge regime,

and what is the best way to move forward in building a future which includes all

Cambodians?"

Laura McGrew has worked with Cambodians since 1986 in many capacities, most recently

with the UN as a political monitor.

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