Cambodia: Bloggers still skeptical of Khmer Rouge tribunal after agreement

After continuous delays in the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia's (ECCC's) tribunal proceedings, the United Nations and the Cambodian Bar Association reached an agreement last week on how much the CBA can charge volunteer tribunal attorneys. Although this is a step forward in securing transitional justice for Cambodians, international bodies and the Cambodian government are still debating over when the actual trial will begin.

Cambodian bloggers, in response, are still skeptical over promises of reconciliation.

According to Details are Sketchy, the ECCC's endeavors will never be good enough to heal the trauma so engrained in Khmer society. The trial, likewise, should be considered purely a justice initiative, rather than a form of emotional therapy for victims.

Can a trial at this late stage ever hope to ease such venomous hatred? Probably not. For all the KRT hopes to contribute, it will never be able to completely slay the demons of Cambodia’s past. Only time can do that.

KI Media, citing Stanford Review writer Allison Rhines, notes that this agreement is merely a small step towards a grander agreement on the tribunal, and that more pressing issues sit on the table.

The registration fee dispute has been only one in a long string of many minor issues that have stalled progress toward an international trial for the last decade. Agreement on whether to organize a court to try the leaders of the Khmer Rouge was reached only in 2003, at the culmination of five years and eleven rounds of negotiations. Last summer, the UN officially allotted three years for the undertaking; almost a full year of that time has already been spent on bureaucratic hang-ups.

Rhines also observes a possible “foot-dragging” strategy on the part of the Cambodian governmentperhaps a tactic for former Khmer Rouge officials currently in the government to avoid accountability for their crimes. She argues that the political rhetoric of “justice” is hindering any real push for reconciliation.

Since this latest milestone, all sides have publicly stated their commitment to justice; however, in the face of continued bureaucratic and political maneuvering, it is unclear just how genuine their commitments are.

The coming task is monumental: the ECCC's future meetings between international and local judges entail combing a list of over 100 laws, as tribunal blogger Stan Starygin notes in a recent Voice of America article. Cambodian judge You Bunleng assured the public that future talks are merely “technical discussions,” but bloggers are still questioning the extent of these discussions.

Similar meetings have failed to reach full agreement on the rules, which are imperative for the functioning of the courts. The latest round of talks only became possible after the Cambodian Bar Association relented on high fees for the participation of foreign lawyers, which had caused the UN-appointed international jurists to cancel a meeting at the end of May.

Political opposition leader Sam Rainsy also spoke out against the continued delays—perhaps a reflection of the current government’s affiliation with the Khmer Rouge regime—when he said that the Cambodian people require large-scale justice to move forward. According to Rainsy, Cambodia's genocidal shadow will not disappear as long as the CPP is in power.

…I have a little hope that our current Khmer leaders are willing to allow the Khmer Rouge Tribunal to proceed fairly. It means that only democrats and people who are not linked to the Khmer Rouge crimes and are not absorbed in Khmer Rouge ideologies can urge for the proceedings of the tribunal for the prosecution of the former Khmer Rouge leaders whose hands are stained with blood of Khmer citizens to move forward with transparency.

Time is running out for justice, Rainsy argues, because most older Khmer Rouge leaders will die soon.


  • To some extent, I agree with the comment made by Details are Sketchy which saiys “Can a trial at this late stage ever hope to ease such venomous hatred? Probably not. For all the KRT hopes to contribute, it will never be able to completely slay the demons of Cambodia’s past”.

    However, I wish to add that if the current CPP cadres are not tried (or at least summoned to testify at the witness stand), there will never be a real national reconciliation. Millions of Khmer Rouge victims’ surviving familes will never fully understand the meaning as well as the objective of this Khmer Rouge trial process, nor will they be prepared to accommodate all communist cadres, i.e. Khmer Rouge and CPP elements, in their communities as innocent and trustworthy people. They will never let go this so destructive apprehensive mentality, not at any decade in this 21st century, not even at any decade in the next. Therefore, the Khmer Rouge Trial will never be accepted by Khmer people as a genuine one no matter how hard historians, scholars, jurists and the like try to explain.

  • DAS

    I probably wasn’t sufficiently clear in what I meant by that: While I don’t think the trials will _completely_ heal Cambodia, I do think that the trials are mandatory for any true healing process.

  • John Hanson

    The healing process is important, of course. Understanding why is also, and important today as we face the Irag situation.
    The trial of the Khmer Rouge needs to include the question why; motive is essential in the judicial process. What was the condition of Cambodia in 1975: food supply, damage to transportation networks, how many lives lost, families disrupted, and business and productive land spoiled between 1969 and 1975; and what role did international organizations play in relief? Can the trial be judicious and what do we learn if it is confined to the period after 1975?

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