Karnavas publishes paper on reparations to Khmer Rouge victims through sustainable health care

Remedying Victims Of Khmer Rouge Crimes With Sustainable Healthcare Through Reparations Or Transitional Justice Principles


By Michael G. Karnavas

Michael G. Karnavas was commissioned by the Documentation Center of Cambodia (“DC-Cam”), funded by USAID, to examine and propose healthcare as a means of reparation’s to victims of the Khmer Rouge.  His paper was published 11 May 2022.

Victims of large-scale human rights violations have a fundamental right to reparations grounded in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and international human rights treaties such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Unfortunately, rarely, if ever, are mechanisms adopted and implemented that would meaningfully redress the victims. The Cambodian victims of the violations of human rights committed during the Democratic Kampuchea (“DK”) period of 1975 to 1979 – many of whom were admitted as Civil Parties participating in proceedings at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (“ECCC”) – are no different.

Although virtually the entire population was severely traumatized  during the DK  period, formal mental healthcare services for the survivors, as well as others, have been either lacking or woefully inadequate to meet demand. The ECCC – which was established by an Agreement between the United Nations and the Royal Government of Cambodia to “brin[g] to trial senior leaders of Democratic Kampuchea and those who were most responsible for the crimes and serious violations” in Cambodia between 17 April 1975 and 6 January 1979 – can only award non-compensatory and symbolic reparations.

Given this gap, DC-Cam has been advocating that Cambodia and the international community can and should do more to repair victims of the Khmer Rouge atrocities. As part of DC-Cam’s ongoing initiative to implement a program that sustainably supports the health and welfare of survivors, this paper explores: (a) to what extent providing healthcare services for DK period victims fits within the reparations frameworks of the international(ized) criminal courts and tribunals, including the ECCC; and (b) whether absent such possibilities, healthcare services should be provided as part of a transitional justice package designed to help Cambodian society sustainably deal with the legacy of the DK period.

Concluding that the reparations frameworks of international(ized) criminal courts and tribunals and the ECCC show that providing healthcare services as a reparations measure is effectively unrealizable, this paper provides recommendations on implementing a sustainable healthcare initiative in Cambodia as a transitional justice measure and presents further areas for exploration.


Interested in hearing Michael’s pull-no-punches observations about the ECCC and its legacy?  Pour yourself a glass and settle back to listen to this wide-ranging interview he gave DC-Cam.

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