Thursday, September 16, 2010

Conference: Making History in the Courtroom: From the Soviet Show Trials to the Khmer Rouge Trials

Today and tomorrow, September 16-17, 2010, the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law of Yeshiva University, with the participation of the Institut d’histoire du temps présent of the Centre national de la recherche scientifique, will host a conference on "Making History in the Courtroom: From the Soviet Show Trials to the Khmer Rouge Trials." The program is here. Here's the idea:

In 1945, the International Military Tribunal opened the case against 22 Nazi officers and leaders accused of conspiracy and war crimes. At that time, the victims of these crimes were not welcomed as witnesses and were generally not given an opportunity to offer testimony in either oral or written form. Their experiences were too recent and vivid to form part of the legal record, and at the same time it must be noted that historians had not yet begun to write the history of the Third Reich and of the genocide of the Jews.

Eventually, however, the evidence collected by the prosecution became an essential archive and the focus of considerable historical research. The trial was to become a pivotal moment in the process of remembering and then the writing of the history of the war. Even more significant, the legacy of the Nuremberg trials has been that of rendering a new standard of justice in the aftermath of war crimes, genocide, and other atrocities. International courts have multiplied war crime trials, as well as Truth and Reconciliation Commissions, have had a large impact on international awareness of and commitment to bringing perpetrators to account in South Africa, the former Yugoslavia, the Rwanda, and Cambodia.

The most recent war crimes trials are those that have been under way in Cambodia since February, 2009. The Khmer Rouge Trials are a novelty in that these proceedings are taking place after the history of the genocidal regime has been written, the archives collected, the witnesses interviewed, the dead buried and even forgotten by the current generation. The question to be posed in this new context is what is the significance of these trials on Cambodian society? What are the effect of a rather precarious yet highly visible judicial process thirty years after the crimes have been committed?

The conference will address the interaction of memory, history, trials and tribunals. The focus of the papers, given by leading international lawyers and historians, will be that of the role trials play in the development of public opinion, the cultivation of longer term social memory and the impact upon the writing of history. There will be a special focus on the symbolic value and international visibility of these trials, manifested most obviously in the filming of the procedings as well as in the use of video and film as evidence.