THE Khmer Rouge tribunal’s public affairs team on Wednesday told nearly 4,000 students in Kandal province about life under the regime, how the court operates and why its first defendant, Tuol Sleng prison chief Kaing Guek Eav, gets to wear such nice clothes.
The event at Hun Sen Takhmao High School was the biggest yet in an effort to increase interest in the court among people who might not have had the chance to visit it themselves.
Public affairs chief Reach Sambath began with a description of the harsh conditions facing nearly all Cambodians under Pol Pot. “For those of you in the seventh grade, you are maybe 11 years old. Under Pol Pot you would be asked to work in the field picking up cow dung. Now tell me, would you want to do that?” he asked.
He also offered brief descriptions of the five leaders currently detained at the tribunal, stressing the difference between Kaing Guek Eav, alias Duch, who has issued multiple apologies and confessions, and the other four, who have not.
“Nuon Chea doesn’t talk much with Mr Duch,” he said, referring to the regime’s Brother No 2. “He says: ‘Why didn’t you destroy all those documents at S-21?’”
UN court spokesman Lars Olsen discussed the hybrid court’s genesis and jurisdiction as well as international involvement. “The Khmer Rouge killed all the lawyers, all the judges and all the prosecutors,” he said to explain in part why the government had reached out to the UN for assistance.
Questions from the audience revealed an acute interest in the Duch trial. Students asked: How can Duch compensate the victims? Why won’t the court execute Duch? Why does Duch get to wear nice clothes and not prisoner clothes?
Reach Sambath replied that Duch has “no money” but that the court could provide “collective and moral” reparations; that execution was outlawed by the Constitution; and that, under international standards, court-issued “prisoner clothes” are seen as violating the principle of presumption of innocence.
Two students asked how the tribunal could try foreign affairs minister Ieng Sary in light of the fact that he was granted a Royal pardon in 1996.
Reach Sambath explained that the pardon was for Ieng Sary’s 1979 genocide conviction, whereas the tribunal had charged him with war crimes and crimes against humanity.
He then offered a curious parallel: “Let’s suppose one of you rapes a cow. And then, you are given a pardon for raping that cow because the local authorities found that the cow was very nasty, and kicked, and so they gave you a pardon. But you also stole a motorbike. The authorities did not give you a pardon for stealing the motorbike, so you can go to court for that.”