American Ambassador and Khmer Rouge Photographer Nhem En

Posted by khmernews on March 15, 2007

With cooperation from the Club of Cambodian Journalists and the Documentation Centre of Cambodia (DC-Cam) on the 25th of January, 2007, the American Embassy provided a venue and coordinated a Media Roundtable for Khmer Rouge photographer Nhem En’s apology.

After this event, there was a number of news articles about it, but as requested by our readers, Reaksmey Kampuchea newspaper is reprinting the speech of Joseph A.Mussomeli, American Ambassador in Cambodia. In the next issue, we will publish the whole speech of Nhem En where he asks for forgiveness.

Good morning.  I am delighted to welcome you all to the American Embassy to meet with Nhem En, the photographer of many of those photos that fill the rooms of Toul Sleng prison.  Those photos fill the empty rooms of Toul Sleng prison with an even deeper emptiness.  They overwhelm every visitor.  The eyes of each victim stare back at us, haunt us, cry out to us even after all these decades of silence.  No one who visits Toul Sleng ever forgets those photographs.

Whatever accusations and insinuations are made about the photographer of these photos, the photos themselves are irrefutable testimony to the terror of the Khmer Rouge regime.  We all know from recent surveys that many young Cambodians do not even believe that the genocide occurred, that their parents must have exaggerated the horror, but these photos help remind everyone of the true enormity of that crime.  We have almost grown accustomed to the daily atrocities we read about in our newspapers each morning, but I hope we never get accustomed to these photographs.  I hope these photographs will always unsettle us and make us uncomfortable.  We have all heard the old cliché that a picture is worth a thousand words.  Each of these pictures is worth a thousand tears.

While these photographs are an important contribution to preserving the record of the Khmer Rouge atrocities, I think Mr. Nhem has set a good example by apologizing for his part in those atrocities.  Contrast what he has done with the fact that no Khmer Rouge leader has ever stepped forward to admit guilt or accept blame for the regime’s brutal crimes.  If there is ever to be genuine national reconciliation in Cambodia, those who helped commit these atrocities will need to come forward and stop denying their crimes.
The opening of this museum will not, of course, resolve this matter.  This museum will not ensure national reconciliation or compensate for the suffering the victims endured.  It is a small step.  But it is an important step nonetheless.

We are also happy to have with us today our friends and colleagues from DC-CAM, especially Youk Chhang.  The US government has been working closely with DC-CAM and helping to fund its activities for a decade now.  We are very proud of our joint efforts to preserve the past and to bring the guilty to justice. 

Extracted from:  Reaksmey Kampuchea Newspaper. Vol.15, #4203. Sunday-Monday, 04-05 February, 2007.


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