At the courtroom premises, robed monks gathered to chant. Candlelight cast a gentle glow as tendrils of incense wafted through the air, creating a sacred atmosphere as sunlight painted the ornate walls. It’s not the type of scene that typically springs to mind of a court, not least one involving hearings of heinous crimes against humanity. But at the end of trial proceedings, this Buddhist ritual commemorated victims who perished under the Khmer Rouge, blending the essence of spirituality and justice.
The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) was created in response to the atrocities committed by the Khmer Rouge regime. Over a span of 16 years, with hearings concluding in 2022, the ECCC oversaw a series of significant “firsts”. One was embracing Buddhist-informed healing practices, by joining meditation and spirituality with international criminal law’s reckoning of mass atrocity crimes – marking a legacy as Asia’s first post-war international tribunal.
The Khmer Rouge regime orchestrated two million Cambodian deaths in pursuit of an agrarian and homogeneous society. The events from the late 1970s involved systematic persecution and forced labour of various groups. And in this time, the Buddhist-majority nation saw the execution of monks, forced marriages, and widespread destruction of cultural heritage, rupturing Cambodia’s collective consciousness.