Born eight years after Democratic Kampuchea, I was brought up in a society in which neither my family nor my school taught me about the genocidal regime. When the regime ended in 1979, a politicized national history was created that did not include the Khmer Rouge. Thus, I grew up knowing little to nothing about this tragic period.
As I got older, I became more and more interested in my family’s history during the Khmer Rouge era. Armed with passionate curiosity, I decided to work for the Documentation Center of Cambodia in order to investigate the truth about the regime. Having interviewed hundreds of victims of the regime, I have seen firsthand their remarkable resilience and dignity, despite the barbarous crimes committed upon them. However, ironically, this resilience and dignity were borne partially from a purposeful silence on the past. My father’s words “let bygones be bygones” reflect the sentiments of many victims. However, should we forget the past now that we have peace? Do truth and justice make a difference to those who survived the regime?
My answer is a resolute yes. Truth and justice will not bring back to life those who died, but there is no true peace without them. The brutal violence that devastated Cambodia does not diminish with time; it requires purposeful action and education to overcome the horrors that took place, and commemorating and acknowledging the suffering of victims is the first step towards preventing such atrocities from reoccurring. This is true for both survivors and the next generation, which is why it is imperative that youth learn and understand the truth about Khmer Rouge history to ensure a stronger citizenry as we move forward.