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At the end of the Khmer Rouge period (1975-1979), less than ten percent of Cambodia’s artists, dancers, musicians, and film makers remained in Cambodia. Marked as ‘undesirables’, members of the arts community, along with professionals, intellectuals, and educated Cambodians, fared particularly poorly under Pol Pot’s regime. While some fled abroad, most died at home from starvation, disease, or the excesses of forced labour, or were killed by the Khmer Rouge, which sought to ‘smash’ anyone who might pose a challenge to its ideology.
Forty years on, however, the arts are not only experiencing an ongoing revival in Cambodia but have assumed a central role in its attempt to come to grips with its violent past. This seminar examines the role of the arts in one particular part of Cambodia’s transitional justice process, the reparations orders provided by the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC). It details the revival of the arts in Cambodia, from early grassroots initiatives that explicitly associated the need to rebuild the arts community with wider human rights issues, to the arts community’s formal engagement with the ECCC’s reparations program. It demonstrates that in the case of Cambodia, the arts have gone beyond the more familiar roles they have increasingly played in contemporary transitional justice processes. Rather than simply complementing but standing outside formal justice processes and serving as instruments of outreach, activism, and critique, in Cambodia the arts have also become an essential element of the ECCC’s official justice process. As such, the case of Cambodia has established a significant role for the arts at the very centre of formal transitional justice processes.
Renée Jeffery is Professor at Griffith University. Her work focuses on two main areas: Conflict, Justice, and Human Rights in the Asia-Pacific, where she examines the ways in which post-conflict and transitional states in the region have sought to address past human rights violations; and Emotions and International Ethics, where she analyses the role that emotions play in making moral judgements and motivating ethical actions in international politics.