As the Khmer Rouge tribunal gears up for the initial hearing in its historic second case on Monday, the court appears to have made significant inroads with the Cambodian public.
A study released by the University of California-Berkeley School of Law’s Human Rights Centre earlier this month found that some 75 percent of respondents interviewed this past December reported being at least somewhat aware of the work of the court, compared with 61 percent in 2008.
A total of 81 percent said the court “will help promote nat-ional reconciliation”, a 14 percent increase from 2008.
While the so-called “substantive hearings” in the case – involving evidence and witness testimony – will not begin for several more months, the four planned days of hearings next week will be broadcast live across the Kingdom and will draw dozens of international media representatives.
Coverage of the hearings will likely be difficult for many in the country to avoid, but a certain group of Cambodians say they hope to do just that.
“I do not see this court as being able to find justice for my husband,” said Ly Kimseng, 76, the wife of former Khmer Rouge Brother No 2 Nuon Chea. Her husband will be in the dock in Case 002 along with former KR head of state Khieu Samphan, foreign minister Ieng Sary and his wife, social action minister Ieng Thirith.
Ly Kimseng travels from her home in Pailin province once a month to visit Nuon Chea at the tribunal’s detention facility in Phnom Penh. But despite her frequent visits to the court compound, she says she has no interest in attending the trial.
“I was asked whether I will attend the court’s hearings against my husband, and I just told them that I don’t need to join it because it is unfair already and what they are doing is a kind of revenge,” she said. A guilty verdict, she added, appears already to be a foregone conclusion.
“I know they will just try to blame him and figure out how many years they can put him in prison,” she said. “What I am concerned about is his health, and to make money to travel to see him and buy food and fruit for him once a month.”
Nuon Chea’s daughter, 49-year-old Nuon Thoeun, says she too is “not interested” in the trial and will keep busy on her farm in Pailin.
“They will sentence him to many years in jail because they’ve wanted to do that for a long time,” she said, adding: “If they deeply research Khmer Rouge issues, my father will not be in prison any longer.”
The Iengs will of course be together in the courtroom, although their daughter, Ieng Vichida, said she was unsure whether she would attend the trial herself.
“I am so busy with my work right now,” said Ieng Vichida, who works at the Pailin provincial hospital. “I don’t know if I have time to attend the court hearings.”
Her brother-in-law, Seng Rorn, said this week that he too was undecided.
“I don’t know yet whether I will attend the court’s hearings against my father-in-law and mother-in-law – I will decide later,” he said, adding that Ieng Sary’s 1996 pardon from then-king Norodom
Sihanouk could affect the court’s attempts to prosecute the former KR foreign minister.
In a ruling earlier this year, the court’s Pre-Trial Chamber said this pardon related only to Ieng Sary’s 1979 conviction in absentia at the People’s Revolutionary Tribunal, convened shortly after the fall of the Khmer Rouge, and does not bar his prosecution in the present day. However, this ruling is not binding on the court’s Trial Chamber, and defence lawyers intend to raise the issue next week.
While it is unclear how much, if it all, any of the defendants will speak during the hearings next week, they have for the most part shown little inclination to cooperate with the court.
The exception has been Khieu Samphan, who, while declining to address the allegations against him in the indictment, has nonetheless agreed to “contribute to the work of justice by presenting his version of the facts at trial”, according to a recent defence filing.
Khieu Samphan’s wife, 59-year-old So Socheat, said she was prepared to attend the hearings in support of her husband, and that she hoped his claims of innocence would be vindicated at trial.
“I was with him at the time [that the Khmer Rouge were in power] – he had the right to welcome guests from overseas and offer them credentials, but had no power to decide anything,” she said.
“I also want to know who killed Cambodians, but please don’t just make accusations against all people in the Khmer Rouge.”