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For former Khmer Rouge prisoners, reparations are key to justice

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The men are two of 94 registered civil parties in the trial of S-21's former chief, Kaing Guek Eav, whose alias is Duch. He is the first of five detained former leaders to stand trial. Hearings began Feb. 17 and are expected to last through August, after which judges will determine Duch's guilt and what, if any, reparations to award victims.

'The court needs to calculate [my loss]' in monetary terms

Chum already has a request.

"I want money," he says in a recent interview at S-21 prison, now a museum, in the same room where guards tortured him to confess his involvement in the CIA. "I lost five family members – my wife and four children – and some property under the Khmer Rouge. The court needs to calculate what this equals with money."

"I want compensation from the court," adds Bou, whose wife died in S-21, in a separate interview. Unemployed and living with his children in Kandal Province, he said he struggles to afford travel costs to attend the trial in Phnom Penh. "I want to make a funeral for my wife."

The tribunal's bylaws state "collective and moral" reparations might pay for services for the benefit of victims, although the court has yet to define exactly what this means. As the case against Duch progresses, lawyers and judges are wrangling over how to reconcile the chasm between what victims want versus what the court can give.

A 'novel approach' to international justice

The hybrid court, so called because it combines elements of Cambodian and international law and features both domestic and foreign lawyers and judges, has already taken unprecedented steps to give victims a role in the proceedings. Unlike any other international criminal or hybrid court, the Khmer Rouge tribunal allows victims to register as civil parties with the right to a lawyer and the ability to ask the defendant questions and request investigation into certain crimes.

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