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A new TV show is rapidly extending the reach of the Khmer Rouge war crimes court to Cambodian households.
Today, not even half the country's more than 14 million people are over 20 years old, which means they never lived under the regime. Their ignorance of firsthand atrocities has been compounded by the fact that, until this year, Khmer Rouge history wasn’t taught in schools. Many current government officials are former Khmer Rouge cadres and the subject matter remains highly controversial.
Unlike some other international war crimes courts, the Khmer Rouge tribunal hasn't had community-based truth and reconciliation committees to extend its reach to the population.
The hosts of "Duch on Trial" explain how the court is run by Cambodian and international judges, lawyers and staff. How subordinates and prisoners who were under Duch’s control and are still alive today provided testimony, and how the maximum penalty for the five elderly former leaders in detention is to live out their few remaining years in prison.
For many viewers, such plain talk concentrated into engaging 24-minute episodes lets them grasp the court’s work for the first time.
“Part of the reason for the show’s popularity is that before there was a big lack of communication about the tribunal,” said Neth. “So we’re trying to help fix that.”
The challenge, said Matthew Robinson, the show’s British producer and head of Khmer Mekong Films, “is how to cram into less than half an hour the highlights of a week’s worth of the trial that a group of not legally-sophisticated people can relate to.”
Previously, the bulk of outreach for the tribunal had been shouldered by a handful of NGOs, such as the Documentation Center of Cambodia (DC-Cam), the leading custodian of primary documents on the Khmer Rouge.
Through this non-profit group, 10,000 rural Cambodians have been bussed into Phnom Penh to attend the tribunal and 300,000 textbooks about the Khmer Rouge have been distributed to high school classrooms across the country.
The group also makes regular trips to the countryside, assisting people in filling out paperwork to file evidence to the tribunal of crimes they witnessed under the regime’s rule and, perhaps more importantly, helping people simply gain closure by gathering details on the fate of loved ones.