THE Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts is working with UNESCO to renovate the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, officials said Thursday, amid questions over whether the project could overly sanitise the site.
An official at the ministry, who asked not to be named, said Minister of Culture Him Chhem met with Teruo Jinnai, UNESCO’s representative in Cambodia, on Tuesday to discuss preliminary plans for the project, pledging to visit the site together to evaluate it in the near future.
Chey Sopheara, director of the museum, said he had already discussed plans with UNESCO to increase the facility’s archival capabilities, and that the archiving process began late last year.
“We have reached an agreement to store all of our archives digitally, on a server,” Chey Sopheara said Thursday, adding that the Ministry of Culture is planning to add a car park, a garden, public toilets and a ticket office around the site.
Jinnai said the archiving process would expand on the records preserved by organisations such as the Documentation Centre of Cambodia (DC-Cam), as many of the documents and photographs compiled for digitisation have never before been processed.
Though other plans are still in the preliminary stages, Jinnai said UNESCO hoped to help professionalise the museum’s operations and provide better training to its staff members.
“Since Tuol Sleng is also a museum, upgrading the management is very important,” he said, adding that UNESCO had already provided computers, scanners and technology training to museum workers.
The addition of on-site parking, a garden and other renovations at Tuol Sleng, Jinnai said, is to proceed without the sanitisation that sometimes befalls modernised historical sites. “You have to keep the authenticity, and some of them have maybe lost authenticity,” he said.
Youk Chhang, director of DC-Cam, said UNESCO “has come in and provided some support, which should be appreciated”.
He said he worried, however, about the potential for renovation and commercialisation to “dehumanise those who have died and have left behind a memory for us to learn from”.
“By doing that, you wash away the memory, and in fact, tourists don’t want the memory to be washed away,” Youk Chhang said.
Around 17,000 people were imprisoned at Tuol Sleng under Democratic Kampuchea, and almost all were eventually executed.
The museum, in Phnom Penh’s Chamkarmon district, sees around 500 tourists per day and depends largely on their donations for its upkeep, according to the International Centre for Transitional Justice. It was initially conceived by the Vietnamese-backed People’s Republic of Kampuchea as a means of winning international support by displaying evidence of Khmer Rouge atrocities to foreign visitors.