Dignity, Identity and Cultural Property in the Aftermath of Genocide
31 Pages Posted: 15 Nov 2020
Date Written: September 29, 2020
This article seeks to contribute a ‘thicker’ understanding of the harm caused by the destruction of cultural property and the means through which that harm can be redressed. It centres the experience of the Cham, an Islamic group who were subjected to religious persecution and genocide during the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia. The article analyses attacks on the Cham’s cultural property and subsequent measures of redress, using Bernadette Atuahene’s interlinked property-loss concepts of ‘dignity takings’ and ‘dignity restoration’. We argue that exploring the Cham’s experience under the Khmer Rouge through the framework of ‘dignity takings’ facilitates a ‘thicker’ understanding of harm, linking the loss of property to experiences of dehumanisation, infantilization and community destruction. Turning to processes of ‘dignity restoration’, the article explores how responses to the Cham’s loss of cultural property have been iterative, at times unintentional and ultimately unsuccessful in redressing the full impacts of the loss. The article stresses the importance of moving beyond a focus on restitution and/or reconstruction in cases of cultural property loss, to develop a spectrum of interventions which reaffirm victims’ humanity, reinforce their agency, and allow them to meaningfully reconnect with their heritage.
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