Its legacy is a mixed bag of very limited success, according to Sophal Ear, a Cambodian-American academic who is associate dean of the Thunderbird School of Global Management at Arizona State University.
“Is some justice better than no justice? Of course. Three convictions for a couple of hundred million dollars worth it? This is the $200 million question.
“As a survivor of the Khmer Rouge who has undoubtedly been incredibly fortunate and who has thrived, I think of all those who haven’t been able to have the same opportunities I had, whose lives were irreparably harmed.”
He said the tribunal had “meted out a modicum of justice at a very high price” but it risked being overshadowed by the regression of democracy and human rights in Cambodia, which is effectively a one-party state.
“The Cambodian authorities schooled the international community on how to manipulate a tribunal down to the number of allowed indictments, the venue [a military base] and never-ending constraints on the scope of what could come before the tribunal,” he said.
“For survivors and families of the victims, individuals like myself, but really millions of others, each and every day is another day of justice denied only because so much that goes on in Cambodia today is about aiding and abetting impunity. Corruption, lack of accountability, injustice, are all hallmarks of today’s Cambodia.”
Countries such as the United States, Japan and Australia, which has contributed more than $40 million, helped cover the cost of the tribunal.
Despite the price it had been a worthwhile process, Jean Bogais of the University of Sydney said on Thursday.
“It had to be done,” he said. “It’s taken a long time and been extremely costly but what we must take into consideration is not so much how much it cost, but the accountability and the transparency.
“To be able to get to the stage where people were able to actually know what happened and how it happened is so important. To me, the cost is irrelevant. What matters is the outcome.”
On Thursday, Samphan, the former head of the state of the Khmer Rouge government, was the last to sit in the tribunal dock and, wearing a white jacket and a face mask, he listened to the verdict through headphones.
He had been found guilty at the UN-assisted court in 2018 of a catalogue of other crimes including genocide, murder, enslavement and forced marriage.
But even before that he was serving life in jail for another conviction for crimes against humanity related to mass disappearances.
His fate, therefore, was sealed no matter the result, a reality he conceded even when he appealed.
“No matter what you decide I will die in prison,” he said.
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