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BRIDGING THE GAP: IMPROVING OUTREACH AT THE ECCC February 21, 2009

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DOCUMENTATION CENTER OF CAMBODIA

MAGAZINE: Searching for the Truth, February 2009

 

BRIDGING THE GAP: IMPROVING OUTREACH AT THE ECCC

Norman Henry Pentelovitch

 

Today, those best informed about the work of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) are rarely Cambodians.  This is in large part because the Public Affairs Section of the ECCC is failing to focus its efforts on creating and disseminating outreach materials designed to reach the majority of Cambodians. 

 

The website of the Public Affairs Section of the ECCC boasts that students and scholars from the United States, Singapore, Switzerland, France, Korea, Canada, and Germany visited the ECCC in 2009. The absence of activities directed at Cambodians is glaring.  The only activity that appears directed at Cambodians is an announcement that free buses will be provided from Phnom Penh to the ECCC on the initial days of Duch’s hearing.  However there will only be two buses and booking in advance is required. There is no description of how to book in advance, and no indication that any effort has been made to help Cambodians travel to Phnom Penh from other provinces (which may be a moot point because the internet is not readily available in many parts of Cambodia).

 

It appears that the Public Affairs Section of the ECCC is more concerned with ensuring that scholars and foreign students understand the workings of the ECCC than the people of Cambodia.  This is disgraceful.  I and many others have suggested several simple and inexpensive measures for providing information to Cambodians.  Field interviews and research suggest these measures, some of which are described below, will be effective.  Instead of following any of these suggestions, the Public Affairs Section printed expensive desk calendars, t-shirts, and baseball caps.

 

To be sure, every program that brings visiting scholars to the ECCC helps broaden the context in which the trials of senior-most Khmer Rouge leaders are understood.  This is an excellent and admirable end to achieve, however not when it comes at the expense of effective outreach to the real stakeholders of the ECCC: the people of Cambodia. 

 

The Public Affairs Section has acknowledged that it has no overall outreach strategy. There are no phases, no goals to achieve, no benchmarks to meet.  Without a goal, there can be no understanding of when the process is closer to or further from achieving anything, much less a defined objective. By failing to enumerate any goals or create an overall strategy, the Public Affairs Section of the ECCC cannot hope to be effective, and indeed, is not effective.

 

The same old methods for outreach – distributing confusing booklets and posters, occasionally appearing on a radio program, attending international conferences, and meeting with dozens of foreign dignitaries and journalists – cannot be continued. These methods are ineffective, expensive, and divert funding from worthy programs. 

 

Now, with the trial of the notorious former head of Tuol Sleng prison underway, the Public Affairs Section should be increasing its efforts more than ever to ensure that each person in Cambodia learns what the ECCC is and how to attend the trials. The Public Affairs Section could immediately improve its outreach by taking steps such as:

  • Creating a one page flyer to be distributed throughout schools in Cambodia describing what will take place at Duch’s hearing and giving directions for how to attend. The flyer should also direct students to other sources for updated ECCC information
  • Developing outreach materials for a population with a high illiteracy rate, including radio programs created by the Outreach Section, television programs created by the ECCC (not third parties), and hosting ECCC forums separate from civil society forums
  • Increasing the number of buses and days that people can visit the ECCC
  • Creating outreach satellite posts throughout Cambodia in collaboration with existing local governments and UN facilities where Cambodians could receive printed materials and updates about the ECCC
  • Making a live feed of trial and hearing proceedings available each day in time for the nightly news
  • Creating a short summary of each days proceedings for distribution to news outlets

Until the Public Affairs Section treats the people of Cambodia as stakeholders in the ECCC it is unlikely the quality of outreach will change for the better.  Passive, ineffective, and wasteful outreach will remain the rule rather than the exception, and the best opportunity for the people of Cambodia to learn the truth about the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge will pass.  The Public Affairs Section should reconsider its attitude towards outreach and develop a strategy to ensure that every piece of information available to foreign scholars and students is also provided to the people of Cambodia.

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