Widespread psychological trauma is a significant and well-documented damage to victim populations recovering from periods of conflict. Yet this damage is not well developed by international courts, which are often focused on identifying the physical harms in a victim population. The second case before the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (``ECCC''), known as Case 002/1, proved that mental trauma of victims and their families should and can play a significant role in mass atrocity trials for the purpose of sentencing the perpetrators and providing reparations. The opportunity remains for other courts to utilize research on mass trauma effectively.
The ECCC's development of psychological harm evidence through victim impact hearings provides a compelling example of the effectiveness and import of such evidence in prosecuting mass atrocity crimes, and will likely inspire such evidence to be further developed by other courts. This paper will provide an overview of the innovative method of presenting mental trauma evidence before the ECCC (through a Victim Impact Hearing), compared with that used in other international proceedings--such as the trials before the International Criminal Court. As seen at the ECCC, victim impact statements are crucial to a court's understanding of the nature of a crime, the gravity of a crime, and the immediate and ongoing damages resulting from a crime. Such information is strengthened through a psychological expert who can speak to how such individual statements fit within the field of research on trauma. Through a dedicated hearing on victim impact that includes psychological harm, the causal relationship between atrocity crimes and population wide trauma can be identified, and mental harm will become a significant part of the judgment against the perpetrators of these crimes.
Evidence developed on psychological impact during the Victim Impact Hearing of the ECCC formed a key part of the Court's understanding of the gravity of the crimes that led to a sentence of life imprisonment for the two senior leaders on trial in Case 002/1. Despite the success of the Victim Impact Hearing and accompanying expert testimony, more and better evidence on impact can be developed in similar hearings in the future. In addition to expertise with the specific victim population, future impact hearings can include population-based studies, the international body of psychological research on the impact of the specific crimes, clinical findings, and ideally, epidemiological studies on victim trauma. With this, courts can issue a factual finding on the extent of the psychological impact of these large scale crimes on victim communities, and raise public awareness on the medical, psychological, and social needs of victims in post-conflict communities.
Funding & No Conflicts Declaration
The authors received no funding and have no conflicts in submitting the abstract and paper for this conference.