A journey to discover the people who change our world.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Documenting the Unspeakable

To understand contemporary Cambodia it’s vital to step back just 31 years to the start of the Cambodian Genocide. It’s a shocking, violent, traumatic history but to ignore it is to step over a huge scar in the country, one which is still healing, and (is still shaping the growth of the country.

Ignoring is something Youk Chhang is certainly not about. Youk was just one of the all too many victims of the genocide. He survived, but his father, siblings, aunts, uncles and cousins did not.

Youk started the Documentation Centre of Cambodia as a means of recording the history of the genocide, showing the world what happened.

‘It’s about family’, Youk told me first off. He lost his. He craves for it. But knowing what happened is a way, and sharing those stories is a way for the world to acknowledge the depravity it can reach to, and hold a hand up high and say never again.

Youk and his team have interviewed over 6000 individuals involved in the genocide, both persecutors and victims. They set up the Genocide Museum in one of the former prisons, Tuol Sleng, also known as S21. Between 1975 and 1979 it is estimated that about 11,000 prisoners were tortured and killed at S21. Walking around Tuol Sleng, encountering hundreds of black and white pictures of prisoners and images of their abuse, simply wrenches.

The documentation centre is now acting as a resource for the Khmer Rouge Tribunal (which is soon to start), providing access to witness accounts and prison records.

Youk spent his teenage years at a refugee camp in Thailand, separated from his family. But what he admits started out as a quest for revenge, is now one of justice. For himself, for his mother, for humanity.

(Youk Chhang was named by Time Magazine as one of the Asian Heroes of the last 60 years).


Post a Comment

<< Home