The first conviction of Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge tribunal, of Tuol Sleng prison commandant Kaing Guek Eav, also known as Duch, only sparked more criticism, and seemed to resolve little for survivors of the genocide. Duch’s relatively light sentence – he was given 19 years in jail, after taking into account time already served – infuriated many survivors. Many average Cambodians did not seem to understand how the tribunal, a mix of foreign and Cambodian judges, had come to this decision about a man who’d overseen a “prison” that was in reality a death camp from which only a handful of people survived.
That incomprehension highlights one of the many failings of the tribunal. In contrast to tribunals held regarding the Balkan wars, the Cambodian tribunal has proven woefully inadequate in educating average Cambodians about its workings, perhaps because Prime Minister Hun Sen has little interest in showing the workings of a fair tribunal to a people accustomed to his compliant courts. The tribunal’s budget for public education most years has been miniscule, and the court facilities themselves, located far from central Phnom Penh, are intimidating to average Cambodians. Worse, the Cambodian members of the tribunal, again possibly with the prodding of the government, have resisted expanding the number of potential defendants, which might have allowed for a slightly broader examination of the Khmer Rouge’s crimes. Again, such broader investigations would have been uncomfortable for Hun Sen, since many of his top associates are former KR cadres themselves.