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Keynote Speaker: Justice Rowan Downing

Blog – Ann Hawken

‘I am going to invite you to stand up…… if you wear glasses….. if you went to university…… and if you speak a foreign language’.

These were the opening words from our most eminent speaker. In response, not surprisingly, almost the entire assembled delegates rose. Then came his next statement. ‘If you are standing, and if you had been in Cambodia you would probably not have survived during the Khmer Rouge period. Yes, because you were considered to be educated’.

A sobering few minutes for all delegates present.

Justice Rowan Downing has recently completed eight and a half years as a judge on the Extraordinary Chambers of the Courts in Cambodia dealing with war crimes hearings arising from this period. He continued by giving a harrowing account of some of the horrific atrocities carried out, how people were required to build canals and airstrips by hand, the 190 concentration camps and that between 1.8 – 2.3 million people were killed during this time.

He highlighted the role of the importance of the victims and spoke of the need for justice for them and how essential it is that these people are provided with psychological support although the resources for this are woefully inadequate. The voices of the victims must be heard and we listened to the words of a young women in court who stated that it is not about revenge but respect for the highest rule of law.

Justice Rowan concluded his outstanding presentation by stressing that these voices must be heard – it is our humanitarian duty to the people who are left.

Tristan Stewart-Robertson has written a fantastic blog about Justice Rowan Downing’s speech.