Khmer Rouge researcher Chhang Youk, who is executive director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia (DC-Cam), was one of six recipients of the Philippines’ Ramon Magsaysay Award last week.
Meant to honour outstanding individuals and organisations for work to serve the people of Asia, the award will this year be given to individuals from East Timor, India, Pakistan, the Philippines, Vietnam and Cambodia.
Youk was alerted about the honour by an email from the Kingdom’s Philippines ambassador, Christopher B Montero.
“The exalted distinction is a fitting testament to the remarkable work you have done to preserve the memory of those who suffered from the genocidal regime of the Khmer Rouge."
“Your commitment to healing and justice will not only benefit the present and future generations of Cambodians but it’s also a legacy of great value to international communities,” read the email.
Youk, 57, believes the award was both personally and professionally significant.
“I am humbled by this most prestigious award. It is very important for my mother, and all mothers who are survivors of the Khmer Rouge regime, not to lose hope in life.
“In receiving it, I am reminded of a thought I often have as a survivor – if you have survived the genocide, you are blessed in many ways. You can begin again. You find a place to live, get a job, make friends, and start a family."
“But the physical survival is the easy part ... Genocide breaks you. Your heart aches from losing the people you love. You feel guilty for having survived when so many others died. And worst of all, you can lose hope.”
Youk reflected on the generosity of the Philippines during the Khmer Rouge atrocities.
“The Filipinos opened their country to Cambodian refugees in the wake of the Khmer Rouge regime’s collapse in the 1980s … I want to thank the Filipinos for their kindness,” Youk wrote via email.
Explaining his current work, Youk said DC-Cam is pushing forward on work related to the memory of, and justice and reconciliation for the genocide victims.
“We will compile further evidence of genocide and crimes against humanity, educate Cambodians about the history of the Khmer Rouge regime, and address the needs of Cambodian victims and their descendants – the keys to the country’s future.”
When asked how he correlated Cambodians with their Khmer Rouge experiences, Youk remained optimistic that people will keep fighting for what they deserve.
“Cambodian people have very high resilience and they will never stop doing better in life and fight back if they lose a battle,” he said.