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Public Participation

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A major feature of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC)—and what may be its lasting legacy—is the special role it accords victims and survivors. Since the war crimes tribunals that followed World War II, victims have gradually gained a greater role in trials for international crimes, not only to provide evidence but also to preserve their rights to learn the truth, have their voices heard, and their suffering acknowledged.

In the ECCC, victims can file complaints and apply to be “civil parties”—that is, actual parties to the legal proceedings alongside the prosecution and the defense. They can give testimony and directly question the accused in court.

Survivor Im Sunthy (center) testified about her husband, Phung Ton, a respected professor who left Cambodia in March 1975 to attend several conferences in Europe, shortly before the Khmer Rouge seized power, and never made it back to his family. As Im Sunthy and her daughter discovered after the war, he returned to Phnom Penh in December 1975 but was immediately detained and sent to several camps before being taken to S-21, where he was tortured. He was executed at Choeung Ek, the mass killing site outside of Phnom Penh. — Lucian Perkins for the US Holocaust Memorial Museum

Within Cambodia, the ECCC gives wide publicity to its activities through live video feeds, weekly call-in programs, translation of foreign language material into Cambodian, and television summaries of court sessions.

It has also helped bring Cambodians to witness the proceedings—so far, more than 165,000 have come, often riding buses from far-off communities. Many lived through the Khmer Rouge era, but others are young people who are getting their first real exposure to the terrors that shaped their parents’ generation. Private groups, meanwhile, organize workshops at schools and village gathering places to help educate the public about the court’s operations.