Forum tackles students’ ignorance about Khmer Rouge

Posted by khmernews on June 5, 2008

By Dan Poynton

Ignorance of the atrocities committed by the Khmer Rouge (KR) and of the ongoing Khmer Rouge Tribunal (KRT) is a serious problem among the youth of Cambodia. It has often been reported that young Cambodians deny the atrocities could have happened in their country, despite their parents having undergone extreme suffering and loss during the KR era. Last Sunday, in an effort to address this knowledge gap in Cambodia’s youth, the Youth Resource Development Program (YRDP) and Church World Services ran a forum in Phnom Penh on the KR regime and KRT, attended by two hundred tertiary students form various Phnom Penh universities.
Asked by the students at the forum why the KRT should go ahead at all, Theary Seng, director of the Center for Social Development, said the KRT serves as an example for all countries in the world to help ensure such atrocities do not happen again.

Another guest at the forum was the highly celebrated painter Vann Nath, who was among a handful of survivors from the KR Tuol Sleng detention center, where about 17,000 people were executed or tortured to death. After giving an account of his time in the prison-which visibly shocked and moved many of the students- he expressed his anger with the ex-KR leaders now incarcerated at the KRT who have recently complained about being imprisoned and how they cannot receive adequate medical care.

“Why didn’t they think about these things when they were in power and were committing all those atrocities against other people?” he asked.

So Hoeun, program coordinator at local rights NGO the Khmer Institute of Democracy, said at the forum that Cambodian students in general have a poor knowledge about the KRT, but that this was not surprising as even law students know little about it.

“I appeal to young people to educate themselves,” he said to the students. “Can we trust the court?” asked one student. So Hoeun assured that, despite the rampant corruption in Cambodia, there was plenty of international support to give the KRT credibility.

“Why do KR Leaders say they did nothing wrong,” asked another student.” Can the [former] king or [the] US and China be charged [for crimes committed during the KR era]?” asked yet another.

Lor Srey Pov, 21, who is waiting to begin her university studies, told the Mekong Times she learned a great deal from the forum.

“I have realized I have a very small knowledge about [the KR] and now I will try to learn more about it. Before I didn’t know how cruel the KR were; I believed about 60 percent [of the stories about the KR],” she said, despite having lost four brothers and sisters to the KR. “But now I believe 150 percent.”

The YRDP runs workshops on the KR and KRT for students every month in Phnom Penh, and plans to offer two more KR/KRT forums in the near future.

-Extracted from The Mekong Time Daily, vol.1, #67, Wednesday, May 14, 2008.


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