The Institute of Genocide and Mass Atrocity Prevention (I-GMAP) invited its first practitioner-in-residence of the semester to present on the prosecution of leaders involved in the Cambodian genocide on Thursday.
The practitioner-in-residence program was created by I-GMAP to connect the Binghamton University community with atrocity prevention practitioners. Those selected are invited to Binghamton for a weeklong stay where they meet with students, faculty and staff to share their experiences and ideas regarding atrocity prevention.
The semester’s first guest was Andrew Boyle, an attorney and counsel in the Liberty and National Security Program of the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law. One of the co-directors of I-GMAP, Nadia Rubaii, a professor of public administration in the College of Community and Public Affairs (CCPA), said having Boyle as a speaker was groundbreaking for the institute.
“Having [Boyle] here as our speaker is interesting because he represents the first time in our institute’s history … in which a practitioner reached out to us and said ‘I’ve learned about your institute, I see what you’re doing, I’m excited about bridging the gap between practitioners and academics and I’m wondering if it would be possible to be a practitioner in academics,’” Rubaii said. “This is the first time that someone approached us and we’re hoping that’s kind of a sign of the growing visibility of the institute and that in the future we can have a mix of the people we handpick and others who apply and say that they’d like to be here.”
Until now, I-GMAP used their global networking to find and invite speakers to the University. Rubaii said Boyle heard about the conference that I-GMAP holds every April, which made him take a closer look at the institute.
Boyle’s work is focused on the Cambodian genocide, as he was appointed to the prosecution of Khmer Rouge leaders by the United Nations.
Between the years of 1975 and 1979 after the Cambodian Civil War, a new political party came to power and led a regime called the Khmer Rouge. Members of this party were part of the Communist Party of Kampuchea (CPK) and came to control rice trade, the economy and the Cambodian people. The regime lead to the death of more than two million people because of torture, preventable diseases and famine.
Boyle presented evidence used in the 11-year trial, which convicted three senior Khmer Rouge leaders of genocide and crimes against humanity. The evidence included original documents, photographs, meeting minutes and broadcasted speeches.
There were an estimated 158 prisons opened during the Khmer Rouge, but one of the most notorious was named S-21, which Boyle said held meticulous record-keepers, noting everything from who attended each meeting to who was authorized to kill those imprisoned. One record shows that in a single day at S-21, a total of 256 people were killed, contributing to the collection of mass graves that can be found in the area.
“[Vietnam] invaded so quickly that the operators of S-21 didn’t have time to destroy the relevant documents that were there,” Boyle said. “And they kept a lot of documentation.”
Boyle said one of the most challenging parts of prosecuting the case was the amount of time that had elapsed from the incident to the trials, since the Khmer Rouge Tribunal was not set up until the early 2000s and ended in 2017.
“One of the drawbacks to doing cases that long after the fact is that people die, memories fade, you lose track of witnesses [and] you lose documents,” Boyle said. “One of the benefits of doing it is that it gives a lot of time to think about and study and research the Khmer Rouge so we were able to rely on books of individuals who had conducted research.”
Madeleine MacLean, a sophomore majoring in political science, said she attended the event because of her interest in Boyle’s work.
“I liked hearing from someone who had directly experienced being part of such a factual case,” MacLean said. “It was something I’ve read about in classes but I liked hearing it from someone who was involved with it.”
Sofia Fasullo, a sophomore double-majoring in geography and mathematics, said she was interested in the presentation because she will be traveling to Cambodia for an internship this summer.
“He had extensive knowledge,” Fasullo said. “Some of my teachers are in the [I-]GMAP program so I get notifications when speakers come and it’s always really interesting. I actually came became I really wanted to know about the history of Cambodia. I’m going to be doing work on land mine detection [there].”
The program is set to host three more practitioners this semester, the next being Vahidin Omanovic, co-founder and co-director of the Center for Peacebuilding, the week of March 30.