A memorial to Khmer Rouge victims – the first of its kind in Europe – was unveiled in Paris on Tuesday by Mayor Anne Hidalgo, 43 years after Phnom Penh fell to the ultra-Maoist regime.
When the Khmer Rouge took Cambodia’s capital on April 17, 1975, it immediately began rounding up city dwellers and forcibly evacuating them to the countryside on foot. This march marked the beginning of nearly four years of brutal rule, during which a quarter of the population is believed to have died from execution, disease and starvation.
According to French media, the monument in the city’s Asian Quarter is a 1.75-meter-tall panel of tempered glass, featuring engravings of Cambodians evacuating the city.
“A memorial to the victims of crimes against humanity committed by the Khmer Rouge regime of Cambodia (1975-1979),” reads an inscription in French.
A former French colony, Cambodia still retains evidence of the country’s influence, and 2011 estimates place the Cambodian population in France at over 80,000.
“What happened in #Cambodia in 1975 concerns all humanity,” Hidalgo said in a Tweet after the ceremony. "We must remember because nothing can be built without taking the past into account.”
The monument was erected with support from the High Council of Asians in France and the International Federation for Human Rights.
Youk Chhang, a Khmer Rouge survivor and founder of the Documentation Centre of Cambodia, said April 17 “has always been a day that must not be forgotten by all of us”.
It is poignant to see memorials abroad, he said on Wednesday, because the Khmer Rouge caused the Cambodian diaspora in the first place.
“We come together as a community as a group,” he said. “It doesn’t matter where we live today, this is home.”