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Genocide: a topic of grave importance for our world

A visitor to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC, looks at a display from one of two Cambodian special exhibitions on April 22. Miriam Lomaskin/the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
A visitor to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC, looks at a display from one of two Cambodian special exhibitions on April 22. Miriam Lomaskin/the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Genocide: a topic of grave importance for our world

This month is the commemoration of the International Holocaust Remembrance Day. It is a topic of grave importance for our world. We must remember not to abandon it.

The genocide perpetrated against European Jews and other innocent ethnic groups by the world-class criminals who conceived and implemented the Third Reich introduced the world to a new model of extreme organisational efficiency in the science of systematically destroying human lives.

Although the annuls of history are littered with horrific examples of genocidal and mass atrocity campaigns by one group of persons against others, the efficiency models designed and executed by the Nazi regime shocked the collective conscience of human kind.

As has been the case in other genocidal and mass atrocity campaigns, the international community’s track record of recognising, acknowledging and responding to the evil perpetuated by them remains a dismal one. In almost all instances, particularly in the past 100 years, our scorecard of timely and consequential intervention has been abysmally slow and ineffective.

The upshot of this collective paralysis on the part of the international community has resulted in much more significant violence, torture, suffering and loss of life than should have occurred. Indeed, this ongoing failure to organise and implement a timely and effective response is being repeated as I speak in the deadly streets of Syria. There, the international community, notwithstanding its immense resources, continues by default to enable mass atrocities by human beings against human beings.

Mindful of history’s victims, in Cambodia, we have embarked with the assistance of our government and others on a historic mission not only to acknowledge what they have forfeited through no choice of their own. We recently initiated a project to establish a new Sleuk Rith Institute (SRI) in collaboration with the Ministry of Education, a bold and ambitious project to reconcile the destructive legacy of the Khmer Rouge regime’s four-year reign of terror with Cambodia’s centuries-long legacy of exquisite cultural heritage.

Focusing on the timeless values of justice, memory and healing, SRI will merge the functions of a museum of memory, a research centre and graduate school focused on atrocity crimes and a Khmer Rouge document archive and research library with a media cen­tre.

Working with experts at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and universities worldwide, we will develop a new graduate school curriculum. It will address, among other topics, strategies the international community might deploy to more promptly recognise the symptomatic indicators of brewing hotbeds of atrocity crimes, and interventions that short-circuit both their destructive impact and sustainability. I invite all of you to join us in that effort.

And I write today to honour and to respect the lost lives and the unrealised memories of the victims not only of the Holocaust but the tens of millions of others. I seek here and elsewhere today to commemorate their loss and acknowledge their innocence.

Youk Chhang is the director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia and is a survivor of the Cambodian genocide.

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