THE Cambodian government has responded to a request by civil party lawyers at the Khmer Rouge tribunal, approving the first reparations projects to be offered to victims since the court began trying the regime’s senior leaders.
In a June 11 letter to civil party lead co-lawyers Pich An and Elisabeth Simonneau-Fort, Council of Ministers Secretary of State Hing Thoraxy said that the government would approve two requests – one designating a National Day of Remembrance, and another expanding the teaching of Khmer Rouge history.
“In accordance with the above subject and references, the Office of the Council of Ministers wishes to inform the Civil Party Lead Co-Lawyers that the Royal Government agrees to . . . Designate the 20th of May as the National Day of Remembrance, an annual public holiday celebrated in lieu of the Day of Anger or Memorial Day, which has been observed since 1984,” reads the letter obtained yesterday.
In the letter, the government also agreed “that documentation of the history of the Democratic Kampuchea regime be organised and incorporated into the academic curriculum for general education from grade 7 to grade 12, as well as the foundation curriculum of higher education institutions”.
The response made no explicit mention of a third request often voiced by testifying civil parties, and included by the co-lawyers in their own letter: that the government help to preserve “crime locations or killing fields, build stupas or worship places, [and] set up libraries or small document centres and museum or exhibitions”.
According to the government’s response, funding for the projects would be raised by the court’s Office of Administration.
Latt Ky, coordinator of the rights group Adhoc’s Khmer Rouge tribunal program, which aids nearly 1,700 civil parties, said that while the reparations were a step in the right direction, they still fell short of fulfilling the government’s responsibility to victims of the Khmer Rouge.
“They want the visible reparations, like the monument and the preservation of the crime sites,” Ky said of the civil parties, noting that even the date of the proposed Day of Remembrance was already a ruling party-tinged holiday.
“I don’t object to the day May 20, but it’s not meaningful reparations to the victims,” he said. “But I appreciate it, because [Khmer Rouge history] should be considered in the national education, let’s say, at the high school level. I consider it an important thing.”
Cambodian Justice Initiative program officer Panhavuth Long called the approved reparations “a victory for the civil parties”, but also noted that one couldn’t rule out the possibility that the Day of Remembrance would be politicised.