Engaging men and women in uniform

Posted Tue, 06/25/2013 - 15:25 by Mr. Thomas Stevenson

About 800 young men and women in combat fatigues filled the gymnasium at the Infantry Institute in Kampong Speu gymnasium to capacity in the morning of Friday 21 June. They had come to listen to a presentation by staffers from the ECCCs Public Affairs Section.

Students at the Institute are considered soldiers, even as they work toward bachelor’s degrees. It was Public Affairs’ second visit to the Infantry Institute in less than a year; national-side spokesperson Pheaktra Neth spoke there in July 2012.  However, to maximize its educational effect, the event’s organizers ensured there was no overlap between the two audiences.

The presentation began with an overview of the Khmer Rouge regime, progressing to the founding of the ECCC in 2006 and then to sometimes-opaque, legalistic aspects of concluded Case 001, ongoing Case 002, and proposed cases 003 and 004.  Three hours after it began, the presentation was still not over, as students took advantage of a Q&A session to fill gaps in their knowledge of the Khmer Rouge and ECCC.

Some students asked about the financial health of the ECCC.  Could Cambodia stage the trials without international assistance?  Will Cambodia be expected to pay back donations?  How long will donors support the court?  Others ventured into the political realm, asking, for example, why the ECCC was only established decades after the Khmer Rouge fell from power.  Still others asked questions that must occur to every Cambodian at one time or another:  How could Pol Pot, who claimed to embody Khmer nationalism, oversee such slaughter of his people?  Why do the trials take many months, since, in the words of one student, “we already know the crimes took place“?  Altogether, Mr Neth fielded 70 questions, ranking Friday’s Q&A among the longest since outreach began seven years ago.

Sok San, a professor of military history, organized the visit on the Institute’s end.  He says he devotes time in all his classes to the Democratic Kampuchea era, but encourages students to broaden their knowledge independently.  Some had already visited the ECCC at his urging.  Others had long been curious about the tribunal, but had no one to answer their questions.  He says he hopes the ECCC’s latest outreach will inspire more of his students to travel to Phnom Penh to observe the ongoing hearings.

Public Affairs representatives ended the trip by distributing ECCC t-shirts, caps and educational materials to the assembled students, who stood and saluted as their visitors exited the building.