Civil Peace Service: Coming to terms with Cambodia's past
Title: Civil Peace Service: Reconciliation and justice in the context of the Khmer Rouge Tribunal
Commissioned by: German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ)
Overall term: 2014 to 2023
More than 40 years after the rule of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, surviving senior members of the regime who are responsible for the killing of 1.7 million people are still on trial. The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), commonly known as the Khmer Rouge Tribunal, is a Cambodian tribunal supported by the United Nations. In February 2012, this court sentenced the former commander of a prison and torture facility to life imprisonment.
The trial of two former Khmer Rouge leaders has been running since late 2011. The main hearing on this case ended in July 2017. The charge centred around the mass murder of the Vietnamese and Cham people. Other charges included crimes against humanity in the form of forced marriages and rape, internal cleansing, persecution of Buddhists and forced labour in labour camps. The verdict of the court of first instance was handed down in late 2018.
Cambodians are still traumatised by the mass political killings and decades of civil war. The country’s failure to come to terms with its past is hampering its efforts to peacefully establish democratic structures based on the rule of law.
The Cambodian people are better able to deal with the horrors of the civil war and genocide, and have increasing access to methods and structures designed to support civil conflict transformation.
Experts from the Civil Peace Service (CPS) are supporting several governmental and non-governmental partner organisations in their joint work of remembering the crimes of the past and building a peaceful future together. The project prioritises youth and education work.
Educational campaigns inform the population about the Khmer Rouge’s reign of terror, the progress of the ongoing trial at the ECCC and its impact on rebuilding society. These activities help to bring the message of justice and reconciliation out of the confines of the courtrooms and into Cambodian society. Dialogue between victims and perpetrators allows both survivors of the Khmer Rouge regime and perpetrators to participate in the process of dealing with the past.
CPS supports reparation projects and non-judicial schemes that provide compensation to the victims and survivors of the Khmer Rouge regime.
Fostering a culture of remembrance helps ensure that all social groups participate in building a peaceful future. Survivors and their descendants receive psychological support to help them cope with their traumatic experiences.
More than two thirds of Cambodians believe that the ECCC is helping to achieve justice for the victims and contributing towards rebuilding society.
In the trial against the surviving senior members of the Khmer Rouge regime, 3,850 joint plaintiffs were permitted to give evidence. More than half of them were women. Among these plaintiffs are victims of gender-based violence. Psychosocial support has demonstrably helped them to cope with the stress of taking part in the trial and to testify confidently in court.
General and symbolic reparation projects help to promote awareness of the past, impart knowledge and heal emotional wounds.
Former members of the Khmer Rouge, along with people who put up silent opposition to the regime or helped victims, are now speaking publicly about their experiences. Memorial committees have been set up at locations where the atrocities were committed. Through art, they remind people of the past. Dialogue between young people and survivors aims to ensure the past is not forgotten. Students are also learning about the trial at the ECCC in order to strengthen Cambodia’s rule of law.