With the Khmer Rouge tribunal set to stir up painful memories, two NGOs are proposing
a $700,000 nationwide information campaign about mental health and the support services
for those effected by the trial.
The Social Services of Cambodia (SSC) and the Transcultural Psychosocial Organisation
(TPO) have written a "concept paper" about providing mental health services
for people involved in the KR trial, said Dr. Sotheara Chhim, managing director at
The NGOs have sought funding from a number of potential donors and received keen
interest from the Danish government aid program DANIDA, who urged them in June to
apply for financial support.
Youk Chhang, director of the Documentation Centre of Cambodia, welcomed TPO's proposal.
"With the Khmer Rouge tribunal, [Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD] is
an important issue to be addressed, and TPO is one of the few NGO's that can take
care of this," Chhang said.
Dr. Chhim said the preparations for the KR tribunal have focused on bringing justice
to the people, rather than on healing the psychological wounds of the past.
"The KR tribunal may achieve justice for the people as a whole, but not for
the individual," Dr. Chhim said.
Chhim said TPO and SSC plan to use telephone hotlines, radio and television advertisements,
leaflets, posters and NGO workshops to inform people across the Kingdom about how
the KR trial might impact mental health.
The project has also proposed establishing on-site support centers for people directly
participating in the trial - particularly those giving testimony - and providing
But while some experts welcomed the focus on solace for the individual, others said
mental health counselling would be difficult to integrate into Cambodian culture.
Dr. Chhit Sophal, an assistant with the national program for mental health and based
at Preah Norodom Sihanouk Hospital, said it is hard to persuade people to seek counselling
and few Cambodians would understand an information campaign like the one proposed
by TPO and SSC.
"It's useless," Sophal said. "The campaign will be a waste of resources."
Sophal also questioned estimates from TPO that PTSD rates in Cambodia could be as
high as 30 percent, saying that only 2 or 3 percent of the 5,000 patients his department
treats annually suffer from PTSD.
Both Dr. Sophal and Dr. Chhim emphasized how their methods and patient profiles differ,
and that no accurate figures on PTSD existed.
Khyt Sovaratana, a lecturer at the Preah Sihanouk Raj Buddhist University, said that
making people face the traumas of the past could prove difficult, because, essentially,
Buddhism teaches people that the past no longer exists.
Buddhist teachings could, however, offer calming techniques for those impacted by
past atrocities, Sovaratana said.
Meditation is an important Buddhist tool, he said, bringing tranquillity, peace of
mind, and even a form of trauma relief to the practitioner.
Before the Khmer Rouge regime, people used monks for counselling and spiritual guidance,
and Sovaratana hoped this tradition could be reestablished.
"Many people find solace and psychological relief in Buddhism. As the atrocities
are revealed, meditation will help people so they won't cling to the past,"