Note: This exhibit is no longer available.
The history of Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge regime (1975-1979) and the trials of senior Khmer Rouge leaders accused of committing war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocidal acts against the country’s people are currently captured in a photo exhibit at York University.
From Impunity to Accountability? The Khmer Rouge Tribunal is in the link walkway of York’s Scott Library until Thursday, March 8. It offers students an opportunity to familiarize themselves with the events of the Cambodian genocide and Khmer Rouge tribunal.
A photo exhibit detailing the history of the Cambodian Khmer Rouge is currently at York
The original exhibit was created by the Documentation Centre of Cambodia, an organization dedicated to the compilation and preservation of information related to the Khmer Rouge period and the crimes committed by Khmer Rouge leaders – information which is now being used as evidence at the tribunal.
It was brought to Canada after Carla Rose Shapiro, a research Fellow at the University of Toronto’s Asian Institute, saw it at the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital. It first opened at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs, where it was enhanced to suit the needs of Canadian audiences. It is now at York, where it includes a section on Canadian contributions to the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), the official name of the tribunal.
The exhibition panels consist of photographic portraits of the charged senior Khmer Rouge leaders, including former president Khieu Samphan; the regime’s second-in-command, Nuon Chea; former foreign minister Ieng Sary; former minister of social affairs and actions Ieng Thirith; and the chief of the S-21 security prison, Kaing Guek Eav. It also features scans of official documents and photographs of cultural objects. Text panels describe the history of the regime and the tribunal, and provide background information on the legal cases.
The exhibit also chronicles the trials of senior Khmer Rouge leaders accused of committing war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocidal acts
The most striking aspect of the exhibition for Shapiro is the biographical sections on each of the accused Khmer Rouge leaders, in particular their high level of education, which many completed in France.
Shapiro, who has a master’s degree in museum studies and a PhD in media and cultural studies, sees the exhibition as an educational tool aimed at increasing Canadians’ understanding and knowledge of the events of the Cambodian genocide and the recent efforts to bring the senior leaders of the regime to justice. She believes it is important, on a global scale, to gain awareness of the actions of the Khmer Rouge regime and the legal goals, activities and judgments of the Khmer Rouge tribunal to solidify international standards for criminal law and prevent such crimes from being repeated in the future.
“Part of the healing process for Cambodians includes bringing Khmer Rouge leaders to trial. This is important for the health and progress of the country, in particular for the victims of such crimes whose trauma is compounded by continued impunity,” says Shapiro.
The tribunal has faced several constraints, such as the high cost of legal trials, political obstacles and sensitivities, lack of sufficient records on the regime’s actions and determining the court’s jurisdiction. In 2010, Kaing Guek Eav was the first Khmer Rouge official to be convicted of crimes against humanity, murder and torture. His court appeal resulted in a sentence of life imprisonment. The trials of most of the others are currently underway.
The exhibition was launched in Toronto last October with a symposium where former international co-prosecutor of the ECCC Robert Petit, ECCC legal intern Kate Robertson and child-survivor Kunthear Thorng provided their perspectives on the efficacy of the tribunal and notions of post-conflict justice.
The photo exhibition was sponsored by University of Toronto’s Asian Institute, the David Chu Community Network in Asia Pacific Studies, the Canada Centre for Global Security Studies and U of T’s Faculty of Information. It was also supported by the Royal Ontario Museum’s Institute for Contemporary Culture, which will host its own exhibition, Observance and Memorial, on the Khmer Rouge regime, in August.