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Tribunal a ‘University’ of Experience: Expert

As the Khmer Rouge tribunal continues with cases against five jailed leaders of the regime, it is acting as a giant school of experience for Cambodians, a human rights researcher said Thursday.

The UN-backed court is undertaking its first trial, of Duch, former administrator of the notorious Tuol Sleng prison, and it is holding four more senior-most leaders of the regime, who will also be tried for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

“The trial is giving a lot of information, and I understand it as a big university,” said Lao Monghay, a researcher at the Hong Kong-based Asian Human Rights Commission, as a guest on “Hello VOA.” “We can study and learn to extract experiences, lessons of history, to build individuals and society for good in the future.”

As it continues its work, the tribunal highlights the activities of the Khmer Rouge, its crimes, its abolishment of law, religion, education and financial systems, and its crimes against Cambodians, Lao Monghay said.

“For example, in Duch’s case, he made arrests and executions, but he is still detained in a good prison, and this should be a consideration,” he said.

The tribunal, with support of the international community, is a benefit for Cambodian and international affairs, and it raises questions about how the Khmer Rouge came to control the country and how that led to the deaths of up to 2 million people.

“Why after controlling power for a few years did [the Khmer Rouge] start killing people?” he asked.

He quoted Duch, whose real name is Kaing Kek Iev, in saying the killings at the prison were done under orders, but that raises questions about whether a person should follow such orders and how a system of government can protect subordinates who make moral decisions.

In the modern Cambodian context, this has significance in whether authorities should follow commands to, for example, evict people from their homes, even if those orders are wrong.

“There is an international norm stipulating that we as the subordinate should now follow wrong or inhumane orders,” he said, referring to the military police and police who routinely perform forced evictions in the capital and provinces, often at the behest of powerful officials in unlawful land grabs.

A system should be in place to protect victims, such as evictees, a lesson that should be taken from Duch’s trial, Lao Monghay said.

Duch is accused of sending 12,380 people to their deaths, following confessions coerced under severe torture, but he is still treated humanely in detention.

Meanwhile, in modern Cambodia, a person suspected of even a small theft can be detained in terrible conditions, subject to abuse, without proper medicine or other care.

“This must be a lesson,” Lao Monghay said.