Promoting Healing & Reconciliation Through Psychosocial Interventions
TPO Cambodia is the only psychosocial organization in Cambodia engaged in transitional justice activities in the context of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC, aka the ‘Khmer Rouge Tribunal’). TPO has been providing comprehensive psychosocial support to ECCC witnesses and civil parties, as well as mental health training for ECCC staff, since 2007.
With this project, TPO and the ECCC, seek to repair the harm suffered by civil parties as a result of the Khmer Rouge crimes tried in Case 002/01.
Context: the Khmer Rouge genocide & the trials at the ECCC
More than 30 years after the fall of the Khmer Rouge (1975–79) and the Vietnamese‐backed genocide tribunal in Cambodia in 1979, the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) are the first serious effort to investigate and try ‘senior leaders of Democratic Kampuchea and those who were most responsible for crimes committed between 17 April 1975 and 6 January 1979’ (ICTJ 26 March 2011).
The ECCC are unique in many ways – for more info, check their website http://www.eccc.gov.kh – but one of the truly innovative aspects of the ECCC is that they do not only constitute the first ‘hybrid’ tribunal, but also that this tribunal permits survivors to participate in the criminal proceedings as civil parties. This new civil party mechanism gives survivors additional procedural rights allowing for more active involvement in the legal proceedings, and the right to seek collective and moral reparations. From 2011 onwards, lawyers for the civil parties have consulted their clients about the kind of reparations they wish to receive and developed projects to respond to those wishes. The lawyers have then submitted their final claim for reparations to the judges in October 2013. Among other measures, such as memorialization and education projects, lawyers have requested that civil parties should be offered Testimonial Therapy and self‐help groups in order to assist victims in better dealing with the psychological consequences of the genocide, which is where TPO Cambodia comes in.
All projects remain proposed reparation projects until their status as official, judicial reparation measures is confirmed by the Trial Chamber if and when a verdict has been reached in Case 002/01. With the guilty verdict in Case 002/01 on 7 August 2014, the Trial Chamber has recognized TPO’s project as one of the official reparation measures.
TPO’s project offers a set of psychological interventions as essential and much needed additional functions for a successful Cambodian reparation process. The activities under this project provide people with opportunities for psychological healing with space to mourn, reconnect with the past and project themselves into the future. The establishment of self‐help groups and the provision of Testimonial Therapy, a culturally adapted and rights‐based treatment approach, support Civil Parties in articulating their experiences and feelings not only in their families, but also in public and with neighbors, creating understanding and empathy with survivors. Civil parties who participate in this program benefit in various ways: they have additional emotional support, better strategies to cope with their traumatic history and improved social relationships in their respective communities. Their active participation will in the ECCC trial itself also plays a key role in ensuring the ECCC’s lasting impact.
- to improve the psychosocial well‐being of civil parties in Case 002/01 of the ECCC
- to foster truth-telling and memorialization in rural Cambodian communities
- primary beneficiaries: civil parties in Case 002/01 of the ECCC
- secondary beneficiaries: victims’ families and communities, key community stakeholders and the international transitional justice community (through knowledge sharing)
Strategies & Activities
Training of Psychologists
We train psychologists to effectively support Khmer Rouge survivors in coping with stress and trauma. This approach ensures local ownership and is sustainability‐focused as it provides a partial response to the Cambodian mental health service vacuum.
The project includes the establishment of self‐help groups (SHGs) for civil parties. SHGs are a well‐recognized and cost‐effective method of helping people find ways to solve problems and cope with stress. Participants, who share a common desire to overcome mental health problems, are introduced to a structured way in which they can express feelings, share emotions and experiences, and support each other. SHGs offer the collective spaces to mourn and commemorate the past.
Testimonial Therapy is a internationally recognized, pragmatic trauma treatment method that was specifically developed for the treatment of posttraumatic stress resulting from organized violence. It was first described by Lira and Weinstein in Chile and has since been tested in different socio‐cultural settings. TPO has been adapting this testimonial method by integrating traditional and religious practices in cooperation with local pagodas and Buddhist monks, reflecting the significance of traditional coping mechanisms in Cambodia’s spirit‐based culture. In testimonial therapy as applied by TPO, civil parties, all trauma survivors of the Khmer Rouge, are invited to talk about their traumatic experiences. With a counselor they restore their painful memories and convert them into a written testimony, which, in turn, is read aloud and delivered to the survivors by monks from a local pagoda in a Buddhist ceremony (or equivalent person in the local mosque, church, or temple depending on the client’s religious orientation) in presence of other survivors, relatives, community members, local authorities, government officials, NGO representatives, youth and others. This promotes the acknowledgement of suffering, the de‐stigmatization of survivors and restores their dignity. It also allows the survivors to ease the suffering of the spirits of ancestors and pay respect to deceased relatives.
Through phone counseling, TPO’s counselors assist victims in dealing with potential psychological issues that have risen from the treatment process and/or the ECCC trials. This continued contact allows TPO to help survivors manage doubts, frustrations and unrealistic expectations as well as follow up on individual traumatic experiences as needed.
Donors & Project Partners
DONORS: The German Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ, http://www.bmz.de/en/index.html) and the Swiss War Trauma Foundation are generously funding this project, which runs from 1 September 2013 to 31 December 2014.
PROJECT PARTNERS: The ECCC’s Victims Support Section (VSS) and Office of the Lead Co‐Lawyers are mandated to facilitate the identification and design of Collective and Moral Reparations, and to engage in the development and implementation of Non‐Judicial Measures together with external partners addressing the broader interests of survivors. More info on the ECCC’s webpage www.eccc.gov.kh as well as its Victims Support Section’s page http://www.eccc.gov.kh/en/victims‐support.
TPO has the responsibility for the implementation, internal monitoring and evaluation of the project.
For more info, contact
Mr. YOUN Sarath, Project Coordinator, email@example.com.