Hun Sen has periodically warned the Khmer Rouge Tribunal (KRT) risks reigniting reopening old wounds if it expands its jurisdiction beyond the five Khmer Rouge leaders already on the docket.* According to The Straits Times, he claimed:
I am not interfering with the court. But it is not the court that stopped the war. Be careful – the court will create war, causing division of society again,’ Hun Sen said in a speech in the capital Phnom Penh.
Obviously, this claim is self-serving, as many suspect Hun Sen fears the KRT could upset his allies, both among the ruling elite, local villages, and abroad. However, does he have a point? Could international criminal courts actually prevent political and societal reconciliation?
I’ve always been a bit disturbed by the fact that it seemed to be Western lawyers, rather than Cambodians themselves, who really demanded justice for the crimes of the Khmer Rouge. Despite the KRT’s many problems
, there probably isn’t much evidence to support the claim that post-conflict justice might actually reopen old wounds. Many international criminal courts actually face the opposite problem. For example, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda suffers from local credibility problems
, especially because most Rwandans do not have TV or radio and cannot follow court proceedings (the ICTR is located in Arusha, Tanzania). The International Criminal Court has run into its own credibility problems, such as being unable to enforce an arrest warrant
for Sudanese President Bashir.
Certainly, the Cambodian people do not support impunity – in fact, if the data in this poll
are still accurate, upwards of 97% of Cambodians support trials against Khmer Rouge leaders (I apologize, I couldn’t find more recent polls). However, the KRT seems destined to suffer its own credibility problems. First of all, the delay – it is now over 30 years since the overthrow of the Khmer Rouge. Second, the KRT’s hybrid structure means that Western and Cambodian prosecutors and judges must agree on whether to initiate more prosecutions against other Khmer Rouge leaders – and very often they haven’t agreed
. Public participation also seems low. Of the 17,000 victims at Duch’s S-21, only 169 civil parties
have come forward to the prosecution. It seems the real fear isn’t, as Hun Sen claims, renewed civil war, but rather the gnawing sense that the KRT will not satisfy public demands for justice
* Prison Chief Kaing Guek Eav (a.k.a. Duch), whose trial concluded last week
, as well as propagandist Nuon Chean, former president Khieu Samphan, foreign minister Ieng Sary, and his wife, former minister of social afairs Ieng Thirith.