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Day of Commemoration and Education

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A reenactment of Khmer Rouge atrocities that was staged in Phnom Penh. Photo by: SOCHEAT NHEAN

Day of Remembrance is celebrated on May 20 each year and commemorates the killings and injustices of the Khmer Rouge regime. Also known as the Day of Anger,  the Day of Remembrance was initiated in 1984 with the purpose of remembering the victims of the Khmer Rouge regime and educates younger Cambodians in the hope that they will avoid repeating what happened in the events that are being reenacted.

This year thousands of people, including government officials, monks, nuns, villagers and students marched to the Cheoung Ek “killing field” to honour the victims of torture and execution by the central Khmer Rouge security office, or S-21 (now the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum) and learn about the inhuman acts of the regime through performances by students re-enacting atrocities inflicted by Khmer Rouge personnel.

The Documentation Center of Cambodia (DC-Cam), in collaboration with the Ministry of Education, Youth, and Sport has put up slogans in high schools across Cambodia. DC-Cam chose May 20, 2011 as a special day for Preah Yukunthor High School to hold an inauguration ceremony of its Genocide Memorial. Like those Cambodians gathered at Cheung Ek, hundreds of students crowded inside the school compound to learn the meanings of two anti-genocide slogans that had been posted and learn more about the regime from the authors of the textbook History of Democratic Kampuchea (1975-1979).

As emphasized by both Undersecretary at the Ministry of Education Tun Sa-Im and the school’s principal, the effort to commemorate the Khmer Rouge horror and its regime victims is to prevent genocide and reprisals. Hiem Chivith, 19 years old, a grade 12 student, admitted that he did not know that May 20th is the special day for the victims of the Khmer Rouge, but the opportunity to participate in the inauguration ceremony of the memorial at his school widened his knowledge of Cambodia’s history and encouraged him to learn and remember the sufferings of those killed under the regime.

Khan Vatey, 18 years old, also a grade 12 student, believed both the slogans and the day of remembrance will teach the younger generation to prevent genocide from reoccurring and counter feelings of vindictiveness towards former  Khmer Rouge cadres.

On the other hand, when asked about the Khmer Rouge leaders detained at the UN-backed tribunal, Khan Vatey believed those leaders are hiding their awareness of the crimes committed upon the Cambodian people and don’t want to accept responsibility. She said she hoped that the court will help ensure justice is achieved for victims and survivors.  

While thousands of Cambodians people and students commemorated the victims of the Khmer Rouge horror, I thought to myself that it is unlikely that the Khmer Rouge leaders currently on trial were doing the same.

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