Restoring cultural property and communities after conflict

Principal Investigator

Dr Robin Hickey

Research Institution

Queen’s University Belfast

Project Summary

The destruction of cultural property represents an attack on a community’s history, cultural and religious activities and even identity, and can serve as a way to eliminate diversity and divergent historical narratives. Recent years have seen an increase in incidences of intentional destruction of cultural property during conflict, for example in Iraq and Syria. While established legal frameworks outline the obligation to protect cultural property during conflict, there has been little consideration of the ways in which different actors can respond to and make reparations for destruction which has already occurred. One development has been the growing recognition of the need to criminalise and prosecute attacks on cultural heritage, as evidenced in the recent trial of Malian Ahmad Al Faqi Al-Mahdi at the International Criminal Court. However, challenges remain for those who would seek to respond to such harms, both in terms of the appropriate legal frameworks to be used, and in relation to the practical and ethical challenges associated with the restitution and restoration of cultural property.

This project contributes to this emerging discussion. Focusing on the destruction of the Cham minority’s cultural property during the Khmer Rouge era in Cambodia (1975-1979), it aims to develop a ‘thicker’ understanding of the impact of the destruction of cultural property on the affected communities. It will explore the practical challenges associated with protecting and restoring cultural property after armed conflict, and consider to what extent transitional justice processes can effectively respond to and make reparations for the harm caused by the destruction of cultural property. Being aware of the dangers associated with giving preferential treatment to the perspectives of elites over affected communities, the project will also analyse in whose interests’ reparative projects are designed and implemented, and will aim to challenge elitist perspectives by engaging directly with affected communities.


The project will contribute to the debate on reparations for cultural property in Cambodia and beyond. It will also seek to directly contribute to the formulating of a response to the destruction of the Cham community’s cultural property. We will collaborate with local NGO the Documentation Centre for Cambodia (DC-Cam), in co-producing a reparations proposal for the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) for destruction of Cham property, as well as a broader policy report to assist the community in pursuing reparative projects outside the ECCC. We will also engage in the capacity building of DC-Can staff by holding a workshop on research practice during our time in Cambodia, and will disseminate our policy recommendations through newspapers, blogs, presentations and reports as well as through the ECCC submission.

Contact Information

For further information, please email Dr Robin Hickey at or call him on +44(0) 28 9097 3542.