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Understanding the impact of justice narratives at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia

Empirical research into the communicative and didactive functions of transitional justice processes remains scarce, obscuring our understanding of their meaningfulness as ‘message sending mechanisms’ and their (potential) impact on popular knowledge and beliefs. Engaging with expressivist theory, this article zooms in on the Cambodian context to investigate how young adults receive and interact with the messages on memory, justice and ‘dealing with the past’ disseminated by different transitional justice stakeholders, including the Khmer Rouge Tribunal, civil society actors and survivors. Through thematic narrative analysis of iterative focus group discussions, we explore how and to what extent participating youths draw on these available narratives to construe their own understanding of non-recurrence, centring on the importance of (1) studying and remembering the past, (2) nurturing intra- and interpersonal civic values, (3) seeking justice for the harms of the past, and (4) moving towards a democratic rule-of-law based society. These themes illustrate strong receptiveness to – and perceived synergies between – core messages disseminated by the Tribunal and civil society initiatives in its orbit. Yet, findings also point towards expressive friction and hegemony, whereby these influential actors saturate the discursive space, lessening youths’ recognition of survivors’ alternative or diverging justice perspectives and priorities.