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Rendering of the court where Nuon Chea and Khieu Sampan were sentenced.
Rendering of the court where Nuon Chea and Khieu Sampan were sentenced. TAING KIMLONG

Architecture of justice: sketches of a historic day

Ahead of Thursday’s verdict in the trial of senior Khmer Rouge leaders Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan, crowds gathered at pagodas and village houses around the country to watch the sentencing.

As part of a series of screenings, which were organised by the Documentation Center of Cambodia, a number of architecture students were asked to sketch what they saw.

The result is a set of drawings that capture how a historical moment was witnessed around the country – from slumped in the heat over a plastic table outside the court, to cross-legged under colourful bunting in Anlong Veng.

The students were instructed, at a briefing in Phnom Penh before the verdict, to notice how the design of the courtroom impacts on the emotions of the people gathered there and draw on these details.

DC-Cam executive director Youk Chhang gave the example of how, at the Khmer Rouge tribunal court just outside Phnom Penh, a glass wall was erected between the accused and the audience – ostensibly to protect those on trial from the anger of the crowd.

“Design affects how people feel,” argued Chhang, adding that it can affect how likely people are to tell the truth.

“The glass blocks the connection between people.”

In addition, Chhang argued, the witnesses may have felt uncomfortable to be standing facing directly in front of the judges, with their backs to the audience – it was deemed likely that arrangement would have been a distraction.
“Face to face is a Western way – it’s not our culture,” he said.

Chhang told the room that, as architecture students, they had shared in the responsibility of designing the justice system.

“What if the court starts next year – what would you do?”

Screening the verdict outdoors.
Screening the verdict outdoors. Kimhour
Svay Chek district, Banteay Meanchey province.
Svay Chek district, Banteay Meanchey province. Em Thavry
A journalist talks to a Cham Muslim victim at the court
A journalist talks to a Cham Muslim victim at the court. HUN PISTH
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Villagers watch the verdict in a pagoda in Kampong Cham. Lim Yonghuort
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Visitors gather in a tent outside the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia. Borey Chhay
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3: Waiting for the verdict in Kratie. Sopheap
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An unusual interpretation from Kep. Somaly
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A villager reads a booklet about the court in Kampot. Ratha Heng
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