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Justice, reconciliation and memorial politics in Cambodia

Manning, Peter (2014) Justice, reconciliation and memorial politics in Cambodia. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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This thesis examines conflicts and congruities between memories of past political violence, and the implications these have for attempts to enable ‘justice’ and ‘reconciliation’ in Cambodia. The project takes the establishment of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) as a starting point that seeks to stabilise a narrow account of past political violence. The ECCC is important as a point of departure because it is the main institutional site through which Cambodia is confronting past political violence. Tasked with prosecuting crimes perpetrated by Khmer Rouge between 1975 and 1979, the ECCC promotes a restricted reading of political violence in Cambodia, attempting to silence some pasts whilst calling attention to others. At the same time, the work of the ECCC situates the past as a field of intervention that can yield particular ameliorative social and political outcomes: providing a sense of justice, establishing the truth of political violence in Cambodia, deterring the future perpetration of atrocity, and enabling reconciliation. Memory is integral to these ends as the key target of civic renewal. Based on eight months of fieldwork in 2008/9 conducted at multiple sites in Cambodia, the project critically reflects on the ECCC’s attempt to generate a unified and consensual account of political violence in Cambodia. Three key findings are evidenced. Firstly, whilst the ECCC attempts to frame and stabilise a preferred account of political violence through a judicial process that reconstructs memory through disclosure and concealment, this process itself is contested by the subjects it animates (its ‘victims’ and ‘perpetrators’). Moreover, I argue that the work of the ECCC actually catalyses multiple, often conflicted claims over what justice and reconciliation mean as socio-political strategies. The ECCC continues to generate unintended and unexpected results in the way that it platforms, recues and generates demands of the past. Secondly, the research findings evidence diverse and competing regimes of memory in Cambodia that call into question the possibilities of the ECCC in reconstructing a unified, shared public memory of political violence in Cambodia, and providing a sense of justice and reconciliation on that basis. These are frequently encountered exactly at the propagation of the ECCC preferred reading of past political violence, gesturing to the way that conflicting memory occurs – or is foregrounded – in resistance to power. Thirdly, the research findings evidence competing rationales for remembering and forgetting political violence in varied ways (for example, material priorities, tourism, and attendant commercial interests). Moreover, the thesis documents ambivalence among some Cambodians toward memorials and museums and the pasts that they call attention to. In this sense, the project shows how these ambivalences are dislocated from and eschew the moral authority of the rationales grounding the ECCC’s work (providing a sense of justice and facilitating reconciliation in the name of continued memories of political violence).

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2014 Peter Manning
Library of Congress subject classification: J Political Science > JA Political science (General)
Sets: Departments > Sociology
Supervisor: Moon, Claire

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