The majority of respondents surveyed by the Documentation Centre of Cambodia (DC-Cam) want the archives of the Khmer Rouge tribunal to be preserved in an “independent and neutral” institution without any political affiliation.
The tribunal, formally called the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), found the ultra-Maoist regime’s “Brother Number Two” Nuon Chea and its head of state Khieu Samphan guilty of crimes against humanity and genocide.
They were sentenced to life imprisonment, with Chea passing away last month at the age of 93.
The results of the Opinion Study on the Disposition and Custody of the ECCC’s Archives were released by DC-Cam on Wednesday.
The survey was undertaken from April to May in Phnom Penh and Prey Veng, Kandal, Battambang and Kampong Cham provinces.
A total of 1,574 people, including 550 members of the general public, 16 former Khmer Rouge cadres, 510 survivors of the regime, 444 university graduates and 37 university teachers were interviewed.
Seventeen “key informants” – including ECCC staff, donor country representatives, civil parties and NGO staff – were also interviewed.
The findings showed that 96 per cent of respondents thought it was essential to store the ECCC’s archives and its work in a safe and secure location.
“Respondents also believed that the ECCC’s archives must be stored and preserved at an institution that is credible and trusted, independent and neutral, and easily accessible by the Cambodian people.
“Respondents were strongly of the view that the institution that maintains the archives must not be politically connected or influenced,” the study said, adding that all documents must be protected from being “altered, adjusted or destroyed”.
“Respondents also suggested that the institution should invest in technology to make the archives accessible to the public and other relevant stakeholders throughout the world. They suggested having cloud storage, a secure online platform and data centres. But all of the archives must be maintained in Cambodia,” the study said.
Chhang Youk, the director of DC-Cam, said an official decision on where to keep the ECCC’s archives had never been made.
“The objective of this study was to survey the attitudes of the Cambodian people regarding the disposition and custodianship of the archives of the ECCC, so that this information can serve as a key input into decisions about where and how these important historical records are preserved and maintained.
“Because a decision has never been made officially according to international norms, it led us to conduct this survey on an independent and credible institution in which to house the ECCC’s archives.
“Another lesson to be learned is that UNTAC did not leave any 1993 election documents in Cambodia, not even a copy of the most important of the documents, the Paris Peace Agreements,” Youk said.
UNTAC – the UN Transitional Authority in Cambodia – was formed to implement the 1991 Paris Peace Agreements that brought an end to decades of conflict.
Four institutions, the National Library, DC-Cam, the Hun Sen Library and the Library of the Ministry of Justice, were recommended by respondents as places to store the ECCC archives.
The $2.4 million Legal Documentation Centre was inaugurated in June, 2017, to house them.
Paid for by Japan, it stores the hard and soft copies of documents relating to the proceedings of the Khmer Rouge tribunal.
ECCC spokesperson Neth Pheaktra said the placement of the ECCC’s archives after the tribunal’s closure has been discussed in several meetings between Cambodian and UN officials during course of the ECCC.
“Further to the request of the General Assembly in Resolution 73/279 of 22 December 2018, the United Nations has entered into discussions with the Royal Government of Cambodia to discuss the potential residual functions of the court, including concerning the archives of the ECCC,” Pheaktra said.