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General Impact

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Measuring the impact of the ECCC proceedings is methodologically and conceptually challenging, but some indication can be drawn from changes in perceptions of and attitudes about the Court. Responses to specific questions about the expected impact of the ECCC suggest an overall improvement in the ECCC’s public image. Comparing the 2010 and 2008 data, Cambodians increasingly believed the ECCC would help rebuild trust in Cambodia (11% increase) and would help promote national reconciliation (14% increase). Although opinions about whether the ECCC would bring justice to the KR regime had not significantly changed, the overall sentiment remains very optimistic (Table 7).

Figure 9: Expected Impact of the ECCC

Figure 9 - Expected Impact of the ECCC

Expectations that the Court will have a positive impact on victims have also improved since 2008. Over three-quarters of people believed the ECCC would have a positive effect on the victims of the Khmer Rouge and/or their families, compared to 68% in 2008. The nature of the positive effect changed, however. In the 2008 survey, respondents believed that the Court would have a positive impact because it would sentence people who had committed crimes to prison (37%) and would provide a better understanding (i.e., establish the truth) for victims (35%). In 2010, slightly fewer Cambodians associated the positive impact of the ECCC with the punishing of perpetrators through prison sentences (32%), and “bringing justice” became a much more frequent response. In 2008 just 2% of adults considered that justice would be a likely positive impact of the ECCC, whereas in 2010 it was 37%. Justice in 2008 was defined as establishing the truth (43%) and being fair (37%), but in 2010 it was understood to mean being “fair” (71%), knowing who is right and who is wrong (25%), and applying the law (24%). The results suggest that how adult Cambodians define justice has changed over time, and may have been influenced by proceedings at the ECCC.[1] Another anticipated positive impact of the Court was its potential impact on mental health: 25% of the respondents thought that the trials at the ECCC could help victims feel better, have less anger, or help relieve the pain and suffering caused by the Khmer Rouge.

Figure 10: Perception of the Potential Legacy of the ECCC

Figure 10 - Perception of the Potential Legacy of the ECCC

While the potential impact of the Court was largely viewed positively, a minority (9%) indicated that the Court would have a negative impact, and 16% were unsure. About one-quarter (24%) of those who were negative about the ECCC’s impact stated that the trial would remind victims too much of their past. Others focused specifically on what they viewed as a negative outcome of the Duch trial, including the fact that the sentence was too short (15%), and that the trial did not bring justice to the victims (15%).

[1] This is similar to what the authors (Pham and Vinck) found in their 2003 study in Iraq, where respondents’ definition of justice was a mirror image of what they had experienced under Saddam Hussein’s regime.