Chayes Fellow Iram Huq ’15, on working with the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia

“There is so much interesting work to be done here that it is impossible to sample all of it without staying for a longer period of time. There are many challenges to a successful prosecution of senior Khmer Rouge leaders, and the legal team does an amazing job of leaping over the many hurdles between them and their objectives.

I had a great introduction to the Court in my first week, when I spent my time attending hearings and read the constitutive documents of this hybrid tribunal.. I was shocked by the raw and brutal stories narrated by victims of the Khmer Rouge. Someone had warned me that Cambodia is a depressing place, and I really do not want to perpetuate that belief. This country is beautiful, joyful, resurgent, and proud. The very fact that it has the tenacity to pursue a long and expensive prosecution of its former leaders is evidence of how pragmatic and hopeful its citizens are. By sharing their experiences, Cambodians have designed a mutual self-help system that allows them to restore their faith in humanity. Nothing is more optimistic than that.

Since that first exposure to the context of the trials, I’ve spent a lot of time working on little parts of the prosecution process. I work for one of the “investigating” judges. The judge I am interning under has an entire team of investigators and analysts working for him to sort and collect evidence. I’m on the legal team, and my primary job is to fit pieces of evidence it into set paradigms of criminality (war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide, violations of the Cambodian Penal Code etc.)

The most interesting part of this experience (apart from reading authentic documents dating back to 1975) is the weekly meeting that Judge Harmon holds with his legal, analytical, and investigating teams. During these meetings, everyone explains what they are working on, and I get a sense of how each task fits into the bigger scheme. At this stage, we are discussing possible theories of the case, and this will have an impact on how all the evidence is assessed and recorded.

Of course, interning at the UN was not the only reason I wanted to work in Cambodia. Indochina is one of the most interesting places on earth, and I’m very lucky that Harvard Law School and the Chayes Foundation gave me the opportunity to revisit it. This is the only country in the world that sports a ruin (the famous Hindu temple of Angkor Wat) on its flag. And yet, Cambodia is resolutely forward-looking – you can see developmental projects everywhere, even in remote villages. I am continuously surprised, excited, and engaged. For the intrepid traveler, Cambodia is heaven.”

Iram is one of 23 HLS students working this summer in 18 countries under the auspices of the Chayes International Public Service Fellowship. Please visit our Chayes Fellowship page to learn more!