Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Documentation Center teaches youth their history

Documentation Center teaches youth their history

Documentation Center teaches youth their history

Anew generation of Cambodians is growing up largely ignorant of what their parents

lived through during the Khmer Rouge regime of 1975-79 and the years of war either

side of that period.

"When I was 17 my mother would cry, and I didn't know the reasons," said

Chea Vibol, 22. "When I was 19, I saw her crying and I had heard some things

of the past from talking to people, so I understood a little. But I thought Vietnamese

and Chinese had been killing Khmer, not Khmer killing Khmer."

Increasingly, young people are seeking out the truth, and flocking to the Documentation

Center of Cambodia (DC-Cam) as if it's suddenly in fashion.

Vibol is a member of Youth For Peace. Along with 24 other students, he has just finished

watching the documentary S-21: The Khmer Rouge Killing Machine, directed by Rithy

Panh. Throughout the screening there were gasps of horror from the students, even

some surprise. Afterwards, talking to the Post, Chea said he didn't trust the history

he'd learned at school, but accepted the documentary as a truthful account. The film

shows former S-21 guards talking in detail about their experiences at the prison,

and acting out some of their daily duties.

Vibol described growing up with a degree of ignorance about the Khmer Rouge period.

After visiting DC-Cam he was frustrated with the level of education concerning life

under the KR that he received in public school. "I must come here more. Every

day I want to know more about what happened."

DC-Cam researcher Meng Try Ea has spent his life trying to find out what happened

in the years between 1975 and 1979. Just nine years older than Vibol, Meng Try's

curiosity was sparked at an early age when he was stopped from playing with neighbouring

children.

He was born in 1973. Recalling his curiosity as a child he said: "I wanted to

learn the full story of how and why they killed the people. When I was young my mother

only let me play with certain children because of their parents' history with the

KR regime." Ea said four of his uncles were killed at the hands of the KR.

"For many, justice is finding the one who was personally responsible for killing

a loved one." He said the KR Tribunal would be important in "fighting the

culture of impunity". More and more young people simply wanted to find out for

themselves what happened. Ea said people at the center found more solace in being

able to discover the past for themselves, rather than have it handed to them on a

plate.

Makara, 25, is in the leadership program of Youth for Peace.

"When we know what happened we can look towards the future," she said.

"In government schools there is no education on the Khmer Rouge, nothing real,

like this." The tribunal "is important so that we can make the past real".

In the considerable archives of the center lie 10,519 Toul Sleng photos and 42,592

pages of prisoner confessions.

DC-Cam opened its public center four months ago, and now there are around 200 people

visiting each month. Families come from all over Cambodia to trace lost relatives.

Ea described a man from Takeo province who came to search for records of his older

brother and found pictures of him, as well as long notebooks of confession, written

while he was a prisoner at S-21.

On September 11 Bou Meng, a former S-21 prisoner, will deliver a public lecture.

On October 9 a former guard will recount his experiences. The talks are aimed at

secondary school and university students, and DC-Cam will be showing documentary

films throughout the year.

"It's a center for the survivor, where people can find a source of closure,"

said Youk Chhang, director of the center.

Chhang said that there had been a shift in the thinking at the center from accountability

to history. "We support any legal process but maintain a neutrality while working

with the government and the United Nations." Chhang hopes that in five years

DC-Cam will be a place for academics, both Cambodian and foreign.

DC-Cam operates a grassroots outreach program, meeting some 40 people every day to

discuss individual stories, and assist in putting the pieces of their past together.

DC-Cam's magazine Searching For the Truth serves to inform families of victims by

printing their pictures and stories.

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