Khmer Rouge archives: appropriation, reconstruction, neo-colonial exploitation and their implications for the reuse of the records

  • Viviane Frings-HessamiEmail author
Original Paper


The Khmer Rouge archives that are now held by the Documentation Center of Cambodia in Phnom Penh are not the same archives as the ones that were built up during the Khmer Rouge regime. The largest archive, the archive of the Tuol Sleng incarceration centre, comprises records that were found in several places and brought together in one archive. In the upheaval of the first months following the breakdown of the Khmer Rouge regime in 1979, many records were lost, stolen, misappropriated or destroyed. During the 1980s, the remaining records were kept in poor conditions and remained uncatalogued. Some records known to have been in the archive in 1979 later disappeared, and some records were later added to the archive. By retracing the history of the Tuol Sleng Archive and looking through a Records Continuum lens at the archival processes that were applied when the archive was appropriated by the successor government and reconstructed into an archive that supported their political aims, this paper uncovers some problems that have affected the way the records were managed, which have serious implications for the reuse of the records as instruments of evidence, accountability and memory. The author argues that the work that was done on the archive by foreign organisations amounted to a neo-colonial exploitation of the archive. She concludes that there is a clear need to rethink the way the records are accessed and used and she advocates for an archival system based on Cambodian values and ethics that takes into account the rights of the subjects of the records and of their communities.


Khmer Rouge archives Continuum Appropriation Culture Ethics Decolonising the archive 



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© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centre for Social and Organisational Informatics, Faculty of Information TechnologyMonash UniversityCaulfield EastAustralia

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