Psychology, Mental Health and Law: Integrating Psychological Knowledge in the Cambodia Trials

How can psychological knowledge help legal professionals in their work with victims in the context of the Cambodian trials?

Project Summary

Trials against the Khmer Rouge leaders started in 2009. In these trials young lawyers were involved as monitors, in addition to local and international judges. The professionals were confronted with traumatized survivors of genocide and crimes against humanity. Many of these individuals had suffered from Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, which, amongst others, had severely impeded memory processes. Although these disturbances directly influenced the trial situation, judges knew little about them. The research project therefore aimed at bridging the gap between psychological and legal knowledge.

In a further phase, psychological trainings for the legal professional and young lawyers were undertaken. The research compared psychological and legal reports on the same hearings, and established/evaluated continuous psychological training and supervision of the monitors/lawyers of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) during the trials. Finally, reconciling psychological and legal knowledge not only allowed judges to interact more consistently with victims and witnesses, but it also contributed to the overall purpose of the Court: to establish reconciliation.

Academic Output

Working Paper

Witness Accounts Are Related to the Different Interviewers – Results from the Khmer Rouge Trials

Differences in witness narratives due to different interviewers may have implications for their credibility in court. Through an investigation of the linguistic experience of witnesses in the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), this study considers how the interviews by different parties (namely judges, prosecutors, civil party lawyers, defense counsels), as well as gender and nationality of interviewers influence the testimony of witnesses who share comparable traumatic experiences. Transcribed testimonies of 24 victim witnesses and civil parties were analyzed using a computer-based text analysis program, the Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count (LIWC). In particular, witnesses used most cognitive and affective process words during the interview by civil party lawyers and defense counsels. These results may be due to a prior supportive relationship between civil parties and their lawyers and with a more interrogative question style by the defense counsel who attempts to undermine the credibility of the interviewed witness. When answering questions by females, witnesses generally used significantly more cognitive process words. Furthermore, witness testimonies were composed of significantly more verbal expressions of affective processes and of perceptual processes when interviewed by international than by Cambodian parties to the proceeding. Our data show that LIWC analysis is an appropriate method to examine witness accounts and, therefore, contributes to a better understanding of the complex relationship between testimony in events under litigation and credibility.

Working Paper

Do Testimonies of Traumatic Events Differ Depending on the Interviewer?

While differences in witness narratives due to different interviewers may have implications for their credibility in court, this study considers how investigative interviews by different parties to the proceedings, as well as the gender and nationality of interviewers, can influence the testimony of witnesses in court who share comparable traumatic experiences. The foundation of the analysis was answers given to judges, prosecutors, civil party lawyers and defense lawyers in the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) located in Phnom Penh. Transcribed testimonies of 24 victim witnesses and civil parties which were translated from Khmer into English were analysed using a computer-based text analysis program, the Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count (LIWC). Results showed that when answering questions by females, witnesses used significantly more cognitive process words. When interviewed by international rather than by Cambodian parties to the proceeding witness accounts were composed of significantly more verbal expressions of affective processes and of perceptual processes. Furthermore, witnesses used most cognitive and affective process words during the interview by civil party lawyers and defense lawyers. These results may be due to a prior supportive relationship between civil parties and their lawyers and due to a more interrogative question style by the defense lawyers, who attempt to undermine the credibility of the interviewed witnesses. Data shows that LIWC analysis is an appropriate method to examine witness accounts and, therefore, contributes to a better understanding of the complex relationship between testimony in events under litigation and credibility.

Working Paper

Emotion at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC): can psychological training improve the quality of justice at international criminal trials?

The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) is trying those alleged to be most responsible for crimes during the Khmer Rouge regime between 1975 and 1979, when as many as 2 million people perished and appalling human rights atrocities were committed across Cambodia. The trials have been notable for the involvement of ‘civil society’ and in the hearing of ‘civil parties’ as well as witnesses in the courts. In this ‘notes’ piece we will consider the effects on the court of the greater involvement of survivors of atrocities. This concerns both consideration of the credibility assessment of witnesses, and the reliability of their testimony, as well as recognition of the emotion brought to court by such testimony and the effect it can have on actors and possibly their decision-making. This paper outlines the issues raised by emotion in the court and describes a training approach to addressing them.

Working Paper

Linguistic Features of Rapport Building in Legal Interviews – Results from the Khmer Rouge

During the past two decades there have been a large number of scientific studies conducted on legal interviews with witnesses, with a particular focus on questioning techniques and question typologies. However, despite this research, little is known about the communicative behaviors of interviewers and word use in questions being asked in court. This study explores aspects of the investigative interviews in trial 001 in the Extraordinary Chamber in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC). In particular, we examined how different interviewers differ in communication patterns in terms of verbal rapport building and social distancing according to the Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count (LIWC). Statistical evaluations of speech samples of 26 interviewers show that different parties to the proceedings (judges, prosecutors, civil party lawyer, or defense) differ in their communication patterns in their use of words that are related to verbal rapport building and social distancing from the witness.

Executive Summary

The aim of the project ‘Psychology, Mental Health and Law: Integrating Psychological Knowledge in the Khmer Rouge Trials’ was to contribute to closing the knowledge gap between psychology and law on the impact of traumatic sequelae on witness evidence in international criminal trials. It analysed relevant practices and case-law of international criminal tribunals and focused in particular on the trials at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia. In Cambodia, trainings were held for trial monitors and civil party lawyers to raise awareness for the risk of vicarious traumatisation. The project brought together lawyers and psychologists from the University of Zurich, the University Hospital Zurich, the Centre for the Study of Emotion and Law (London, UK) and the University of California (UC) Berkeley War Crimes Studies Centre (Berkeley, USA).

Research Team

Julia Müller
Coordinator
University of Zurich
Jane Herlihy
Co-Coordinator
Centre for the Study of Emotion and Law

David Cohen
Associated Member
University of California

Brigitte Tag
Associated Member
University of Zurich

Ulrike Ehlert
Associated Member
University of Zurich

Status

completed

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