The tour guide told us that after the Khmer Rouge they have more temples than schools because they recognise that there’s no point having education without heart.
ANU Law students have returned from an eye opening trip to Cambodia where they met inspiring young law students and legal professionals and watched a Khmer Rouge prosecution.
It was the inaugural Law in Action: Cambodia Outreach Project for the ANU Law Students Society’s (ANU LSS) Social Justice Portfolio in which eighteen students travelled to Cambodia to learn about the country’s tumultuous history how that has shaped its modern legal system.
They squeezed a large number of activities into the 10-day trip, engaging with Cambodian law students, professionals and non-government organisations (NGOs).
Second-year law student Suchara Fernando said she found the experience even more informative than she’d expected.
“It was pretty intense, but intense in a good way,” she said.
“We learnt a lot about the Cambodian legal system and some of the legal issues that affect Cambodia at the moment. None of us really realised the intensity of Cambodia’s recent history and the actions of the Khmer Rouge. We were all pretty stunted by that.”
Around sixty-five per cent of Cambodia’s population is under 30 and many are offspring of the survivors of the Cambodian genocide, which was carried out by the Khmer Rouge from 1975 to 1979.
Suchara said the group was amazed by the resilience of the Cambodian people and humbled by how the students they met were working towards rebuilding their nation.
“Underpinning everything was a passion for education, but the three issues that really stuck out to us were land titles, corruption and women’s issues,” she said.
“We visited one of the S21 prisons [part of the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum] and the tour guide told us that after the Khmer Rouge they have more temples than schools because they recognise that there’s no point having education without heart.”
Suchara began her law degree with a passion for women’s issues and combatting domestic violence and sexual assault but she said the trip opened her eyes to avenues of work that a law degree could lead to.
The students among the group who had taken international law courses were excited to visit the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) and watch the contents of their studies play out.
“They were prosecuting people who were running the prisons and the people in the senior levels of the Khmer Rouge and we spoke to a defender, prosecutor, victims, a counsellors and a journalist,” she said.
“It was also fascinating to see the barriers that the international courts face like issues around translation. There was an American lawyer, and English lawyer, the locals and the judge was of a different nationality as well so the translators kept having to go back and forth.”
Next year Suchara will do the trip for a second time as the vice president of the ANU LSS Social Justice Portfolio.
"We owe a huge thank you to the 2016 Law Students Society and the 2016 Social Justice Portfolio for organising the trip, in particular Dan Mcnamara, Nic Bills and Felicity Brown. These three put countless hours into organising the trip and all their hard work really paid off," she said.