A university professor has acted as adviser in the Khmer Rouge war crimes tribunal.
It was one of the worst acts of genocide in history. Two hundred thousand people executed and up to two million others dying from starvation or disease.
The Khmer Rouge regime was toppled in 1979 after four years of rule in Cambodia but the remaining leaders are still being tried on charges of crimes against humanity. Former University of Cumbria Professor of Buddhist Studies Ian Harris, has written the only detailed work of research on the fate of the religion during that time–Buddhism Under Pol Pot Phnom Penh: Documentary Centre for Cambodia, 2007.
Last year, following a lecture in Thailand, he travelled on to Phnom Penh to discuss a future role as historical consultant at the Khmer Rouge War Crimes Tribunal–established to create a legal and judicial structure for the trials of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Ian said his lecture in Bangkok, as a guest speaker at Mahachulalongkornrajavidyalaya University, was well received but not everyone was happy being reminded of an uncomfortable truth.
The audience was mainly Buddhist monks–including the Supreme Patriarch of Cambodia and his entourage. I tried to argue that, although Buddhism possesses various meditative practices designed to calm or pacify the mind, the history of Buddhist states in South East Asia has not been especially peaceful. Buddhist monks don’t like to be reminded of this so some of the audience were a little irritated.”
University of Cumbria scientist, Dr Roy Armstrong, warned of a ‘silent spring’ if drought hits the African wintering grounds of British summer migrants.
Several species of British birds including turtle doves and yellow wagtails may be heading towards extinction.
The underlying cause is the relentless destruction of their West African wintering grounds, but melting icecaps could sound their death knell.
The situation for some species is getting very serious indeed,” he said. “We’re expecting a severe drought to hit West Africa at any time. Less and less rainfall is falling there due to the melting of the polar icecaps, which is changing ocean currents in the North Atlantic and affecting weather patterns.”
Dr Armstrong is spearheading a research programme entitled Project Gambia to collect crucial data about bird populations in the smallest country in Africa but serious declines have already been documented. Raising money through eco-tourism is the best hope of protecting land which is essential to the survival of wintering and migrating birds and halting the spread of the Sahara Desert.
We spend massive amounts of money in the UK protecting our native birds but it is meaningless unless we conserve their vital wintering grounds in Africa. The link between population collapses and desertification is clear and incredibly strong. It destroys essential feeding habitat and forces migrants to cross larger single stretches of desert,” added Dr Armstrong.
He cited the example of the disastrous drought winter of 1968 in the Sahel which caused a reduction of 77 per cent in the population of whitethroats and sand martins in Britain that summer.
Another drought could happen at any time. As the habitat continues to be degraded the impact could be even greater–especially as climate change is expected to lead to more frequent and more serious droughts.”
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