Georgia Law 3L Devon Pawloski reflects on significance of her Global Externship at DC-Cam in Phnom Penh


Today we welcome a guest post by Devon E. Pawloski, a member of the University of Georgia School of Law Class of 2021 who is enrolled in the JD/MHP, or Juris Doctor and Master of Historic Preservation dual degree curriculum. The summer after her first year of law school, Devon benefited from a GEO – a Global Externship Overseas, administered by Georgia Law’s Dean Rusk International Law Center. Her post describes that experience and then reflects on how it helped guide her career preparation.

I spent my 1L summer working at the Documentation Center of Cambodia, or DC-Cam, in Phnom Penh as a Georgia Law Global Extern Overseas. DC-Cam is a nongovernmental organization that archives documents and objections for the Khmer Rouge Tribunal, and also creates educational materials, curates historic exhibits, and builds programming to promote reconciliation regarding the Khmer Rouge genocide.

My main project connected Cambodia’s rich cultural heritage to DC-Cam’s education and reconciliation goals. Destruction of cultural heritage is often not acknowledged as a significant part of war and genocide. But throughout its history Cambodia’s heritage has been plundered, under French colonization, the Lon Nol civil war, the Khmer Rouge genocide, Vietnamese occupation, and even today. My research focused on the prevention of looting and the incorporation of cultural heritage education in schools, with the ultimate goal of helping Cambodia to heal from the Khmer Rouge atrocities by rallying around Cambodia’s heritage.

Under the guidance of American attorney-advisors, I worked with the DC-Cam staff and a Tulane Law student, Ben Evans, to document the state of cultural heritage looting in Cambodia. Ben and I first researched international heritage conventions and Cambodia’s cultural heritage laws from the French colonial period (1863 to 1953) to the present. We then selected two sites to use as case studies, in which we interviewed government officials, police officers, soldiers, museum curators, teachers, students, and other locals about their personal experiences with looting and their knowledge of cultural heritage laws. The sites were:

  • Angkor Borei, the location of the ancient Funan Empire capital. Looting of Angkor Borei dates to the French colonial period, when French scholars and others took decorative elements and statuary from Phnom Da, a nearby temple that, along with Angkor Borei, has been tentatively nominated to the UNESCO World Heritage list. The French made meaningful attempts to restore portions of the temple, but the damage was done. The temple’s remaining statuary was removed for safekeeping in the 1990s. However, villagers still find remnants of the ancient kingdom in their backyards. Until recently, it was common for villagers to dig for beads, pots, statues, and other small items to sell for food and clothing. Local middlemen approached the villagers to request items, which were then smuggled across the border. In 2011, looting slowed down after an information campaign about cultural heritage laws. (pictured at top left, Devon, as part of her field research, interviews a nun in Wat Kamnou, Angkor Borei) 
  • Ta Moan, an 11th century temple which sits on the contested border between Cambodia and Thailand. Smugglers toted off almost all of Ta Moan’s statuary to Thailand during the Vietnamese occupation of Cambodia in the 1980s and 1990s. Between 2009 and 2011, fighting broke out between Cambodia and Thailand along the border, including within the temple complex itself. In 2011, the countries reached a ceasefire, but armed Khmer and Thai soldiers still occupy the site. (pictured at top right, part of Ta Moan)

This field research led to a paper, “Protecting Cambodia’s Heritage: An Exploration of International and Domestic Law,” which described the current legal historic preservation framework in Cambodia and the lack of enforcement of these laws, then suggested mechanisms for looting prevention. Suggestions includes local cultural heritage education in secondary schools and  heritage protection education for soldiers, by means of DC-Cam’s genocide education program. To help DC-Cam implement this, I drafted a cultural heritage education syllabus with reading materials and activity suggestions that can be added as a final chapter to future editions of DC-Cam’s genocide education textbook.

In addition to this work, I was able to explore many beautiful places throughout Cambodia, including Siem Reap, famous for its Angkor Wat temple complex, and Kep, a beach town with French colonial architecture. When I finished my GEO, I traveled to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. I even gained a few new skills in Khmer and Vietnamese cooking classes, which have been fun to brush up in these recent months of quarantine.

* * * *

The highlight of my law school experience, my Summer 2018 GEO in Cambodia has since influenced my educational and professional path. When I returned from Cambodia, I dove into international law to contextualize my summer experience. I took courses in international law, including International Human Rights with Professor Diane Marie Amann and International Legal Research with Professor Anne Burnett, and I worked with Professor Kate Doty on the Georgia Journal of International & Comparative Law.

When I applied for the University of Georgia Master of Historic Preservation degree program later that year, I wrote about my international heritage law research in Cambodia. Once I was admitted to the program, I wrote about international heritage law and repatriation of Native American artifacts. Although a master’s thesis about international heritage law is not feasible during this pandemic, the skills that I gained during my GEO, including research and communication across cultural boundaries, will be fundamental to my research.

My GEO is also provided an excellent foundation for the beginning of my legal career. I have been asked about my GEO in every job interview I have had since my 1L summer. Interviewers can easily understand my passion for cultural heritage, international law, and even environmental law when I am asked about my incredible experience in Cambodia. I am not sure where my post-law school career will take me, but I know that I will continue to volunteer with my friends and colleagues at the Documentation Center of Cambodia.

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