After Khmer Rouge tribunal, Cambodian archivists preserve a brutal history

Memory projects are upgrading digital databases with hundreds of thousands of documents used in the 15-year prosecution. Questions remain over the balance between confidentiality and the public good.

Throughout Phnom Penh, history sits layered in stacks and along shelves, where hundreds of thousands of documents carry the gritty historical details of the Khmer Rouge state and its victims’ outcry.

Many of these are among the files of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), also known as the Khmer Rouge tribunal. The chambers are a joint effort between the domestic court system and the UN that was tasked with investigating and prosecuting surviving leaders of the regime for decisions that led to the deaths of upwards of 1.5 million Cambodians from 1975-1979.

The trial portion of this started in 2007 and ended last September. This has ushered in the final act of the ECCC: a three-year “residual phase” tasked with archiving the tribunal’s massive trove of evidence while delivering services to the many regime survivors who participated in the court’s proceedings.

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