The Khmer Rouge tribunal now under way, after more than 10 years of
negotiations, is being seen as a significant step forward for
Cambodians. However, the long and often-arduous process of winning
international approval for the trial has also involved people from
other walks of life.
courts first is Kaing Guek Eav - more commonly known as "Duch" - who
was in charge of the dreaded S21 detention center, where thousands of
people were allegedly held and tortured before being sent to the
Killing Fields on the outskirts of the capital, where they were killed.
former mathematics teacher, Duch has indicated he will plead no contest
to the charges and this could have serious ramifications for other
surviving leaders - expected to be in front of the United
Nations-sanctioned court, later this year, for the deaths of 1.7
million people, between 1975 and 1979.
American Michael Hayes is
the founding publisher of The Phnom Penh Post and has followed the
tribunal, step-by-step, for the past 10 years.
"This process and
this trial, in particular - people have a higher level of interest
because Duch basically has already admitted his involvement in the
executions of 16,000 or more people at the center which he ran. So
people are really looking forward to hear what he says. In fact that's
why he's being tried first, because the thought is that he's the
easiest guy to convict, there's so much evidence against him already,"
Those expectations have been tempered by frustrating
delays that Australian academic Helen Jarvis says can be traced back to
the Cold War, when Cambodia found itself at the center of a global
Jarvis has been closely aligned with the
Cambodian government, since it began negotiations with the United
Nations for its backing for an international tribunal.
we have to count back to 1979 so we're really - we're 30 years since
the overthrow of the Khmer Rouge regime; 30 years, people have waited
a long time," said Jarvis. "A number of people have died whether they
were potential people to be in the dock or victims who were wanting to
see justice but have died before that day and that's why we're mindful
we really have to move as fast as we can."
The tribunal may have
been a long time coming, but Jarvis is adamant that Cambodians want to
see Pol Pot's lieutenants in the dock and the awareness level about
what this means is reaching out across the country.
survey that's been done shows 80 percent or more of people supporting
the concept of this court and around 60 or 70 percent are aware of our
work and that's very encouraging. We know that people have great
expectations for us. As I said, they are frustrated and some of them
are cynical but they all want this justice," said Jarvis.
it appears those people will finally get their chance to gain a greater
understanding of what happened here under Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge,
who left this country completely devastated and a third of its
population dead after just three years and eight months of rule.