During a visit to the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum on November 13, UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres promised to pass on the story of the Khmer Rouge genocidal regime to his descendants so that they could share it with the next generation.
Guterres’ tour of the notorious Khmer Rouge security prison, also known as S-21, came during his visit for the 12th ASEAN-UN Summit in Phnom Penh.
He said the blood-stained bricks and tiles of Tuol Sleng are a reminder and a warning to all. This is what happens when hatred is rampant and what happens when people are persecuted and human rights are denied, he said. Keeping the memories of those who suffered and died in the prison alive helps ensure that such atrocities will not happen again.
“I will take the stories I hear from survivors of this regime to tell my granddaughter so that my she can take these stories to her grandchildren. This is something we must not forget,” he said.
Guterres said he visited Tuol Sleng to respect the souls of the victims and the survivors of the atrocities committed throughout Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge era. The suffering that took place between the walls there is sad and shocking, but the story of survival and resilience, he added, is also emotional and inspiring.
“I would like to thank the museum for its great work to raise awareness of these heinous crimes as part of efforts to ensure that they do not happen again,” he said.
“The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia [ECCC] has demanded that Khmer Rouge leaders be held accountable for their atrocities and provided a voice for the victims and survivors of the regime. Their voices are more important than ever, as hate speech, abuse, discrimination and harassment are rampant in every corner of the globe,” he added.
“By learning to recognise the early warning signs of genocide and other atrocities and to recognise the values of inclusion and dignity, we can build a foundation for a future where such horrors cannot happen again,” he concluded.
Kin Phea, director of the International Relations Institute at the Royal Academy of Cambodia, said the visit to the museum was both positive and negative. One positive thing, he elaborated, is that the world will learn more about the tragedy of what happened here.
“It is a reminder to the world that we should avoid war, and prevent it from breaking out. Keeping the peace is what the world needs to do,” he said.
Phea said what was particularly shocking about the Khmer Rouge genocide was that the perpetrators and the victims were of the same race and nationality, in contrast to the actions of Adolf Hitler, who targeted a different ethnic group.
However, he pointed out that the loss of unity was largely due to political ideology of the superpowers of the time. He suggested that these superpowers should offer psychological education, and development aid to atone for the tragedy they caused in Cambodia.
The Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum is a memorial to interrogation and detention events at S-21 during the Khmer Rouge era. The museum presents evidence of tragic events in the history of Cambodia. It is hoped that all members of the public who visit will be inspired to become missionaries of peace.