A researcher with Melbourne University has launched a new study that will seek to gauge recognised Khmer Rouge victims’ satisfaction with reparations projects ordered by the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, as well as the projects’ lasting effect on the national consciousness.
Dr Rachel Hughes explained her research in a public lecture on Thursday, saying it would seek to analyse the claim that a trial for perpetrators of crimes against humanity can strengthen rule of law and human rights, while also looking into the way reparations projects affect national reconciliation.
“I’m interested in the tribunal as something more than a legal process,” Hughes said, explaining that the reparations projects could influence the “dynamics of social memory”.
“What is the relationship between the legacies of hybrid criminal tribunals and political and social change in a post-conflict society?” she asked, explaining that as of now, little research has been done on the topic.
Hughes’s study will last two years, culminating in a full-length book and shorter publications periodically released along the way.
The UN’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights defines reparations as “restitution, compensation, rehabilitation, satisfaction, and guarantee of non-repetition”, but the ECCC’s mandate only provides for “collective and moral reparations”, mostly in the form of memorials and education.
Theresa de Langis, an expert on forced marriage during the Khmer Rouge, said that although the ECCC was “breaking new ground” with its reparations projects, there was still room for improvement on the part of the government, which could offer victims more tangible support.
“If the state government were more involved, the reparations could be expanded to include things that victims need like health care and psychosocial support,” de Langis said yesterday.
“The civil party lawyers have come a long way in developing the reparations scheme … to make sure that civil parties are part of the decision-making process,” she said.
According to the tribunal, reparations projects are dependent on “external funding which has already been secured”, and a proposal can only become an official reparation project if the accused party is convicted of the specific crime it addresses.
Youk Chhang, director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia, acknowledged the system of reparations was flawed, but praised the endeavour nonetheless, noting that “justice is defined by the survivors”.
“We must make all effort, knowing that it’s not going to be perfect,” he said.