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The Justice FacadeTrials of Transition in Cambodia$
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Alexander Hinton

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780198820949

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2018

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780198820949.001.0001

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Aesthetics (Theary Seng, Vann Nath, and Victim Participation)

Aesthetics (Theary Seng, Vann Nath, and Victim Participation)

(p.123) 4 Aesthetics (Theary Seng, Vann Nath, and Victim Participation)
The Justice Facade

Alexander Laban Hinton

Oxford University Press

The second part of the book, “Turbulence,” centers on the transitional justice encounter of three survivors (Theary Seng, Vann Nath, and Bou Meng) involved in victim participation at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC). Chapter 4, for example, is loosely structured around the idea of aesthetics and the experience of two victims who participated in the proceedings, Theary Seng and former S-21 prisoner Vann Nath. If the 2008 reenactment highlighted the performative dimensions of the transitional justice imaginary, it also suggested an implicit aesthetics as a former prison that had been converted into a genocide museum was, in this moment, envisioned as a crime site now inhabited by court personnel, victims and witnesses, and defendant, and evidence. The ECCC has a similar aesthetics of justice, ranging from court regalia and symbols to courtroom demeanor, technologies, styles of speech and movement, and public participation. The first part of the chapter centers on the experience of the first civil party, Theary Seng. Originally skeptical of the ECCC, Seng came to believe it had transformative possibilities in terms of promoting democracy in Cambodia. To this end, in a series of pretrial hearings, she sought to speak directly in court. Initially successful, Seng was eventually silenced as the Pre-Trial Chamber ruled that civil parties could only speak through their lawyers. Seng, for her part, became increasingly critical of the court, stating that she refused to be a piece of “décor” in a “sham.” Eventually she would renounce her civil party status and become an outspoken critic of the court, which was increasingly beset by controversy. The remainder of the chapter focuses on Vann Nath’s Case 001 testimony. On the day of his testimony, the 500-seat courtroom was packed, as it would be during many subsequent trial sessions. Vann Nath’s art, much of which he had produced during People’s Republic of Kampuchea for display at Tuol Sleng, was reintroduced as juridical evidence and shown in court. The chapter explores some of these aesthetic dimensions of the transitional justice imaginary even as it considers the lived experience and practices that informed Vann Nath’s art, including Buddhist aesthetics and beliefs.

Keywords:   Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, civil party testimony, Vann Nath, Theary Seng, Buddhism, art, aesthetics

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