Monday, February 1, 2010

Who are they?

This doesn't look anything like the usual S21 portrait. I'm informed this is Aussie David Scott.
Everytime I go to Tuol Sleng I see their pictures. Yet I still have no idea who they are. Their faces have been staring back at me for years. Maybe, many moons ago the Tuol Sleng archivists pasted their names next to their mugshots, but today there's nothing to say who they are. I'm talking about the handful of pictures of foreigners interrogated and then murdered at S21. I'm sure that in my earlier visits to S21, when the photographs were attached directly to the walls, instead of inside the glass-fronted display cases as they are now, there were other photos displayed as well as confessions, and more. Afterall, it is a museum, so the exhibits have been changed over the course of time. However, I still think, at least as a mark of respect, if the names of individuals are known, they should be displayed next to the picture. The folks at DC Cam have established the names of foreigners killed at S-21 from the meticulous archives kept by the Khmer Rouge staffers, and these include Westerners as well as other nationalities and many Vietnamese and Thai nationals too. Below are the names of the Westerners. I'm sure someone will be able to pinpoint exactly who is who among the half a dozen photos posted at Tuol Sleng, so please let me know, so I can post the names here. The portraits were usually taken as the prisoners arrived at S21 and before their pointless interrogation took place, with death usually following soon after.
Ronald Keith Dean, Australian
David Lloyd Scott, Australian
John Dawson Dewhirst, British
Harard Bernard, French
Rovin Bernard, French
Andre Gaston Courtigne, French
Kerry George Hamill, New Zealand
James William Clark, USA
Michael Scott Deeds, USA
Christopher Edward Deland, USA
Lance MacNamara, USA
Does you recognise this portrait?
None of those being photographed had any idea about their fate
One of the six Western face portraits on display at S21
Another prisoner portrait taken from the display photographs in Building B
The photos of half a dozen Westerners can be found on the walls of Tuol Sleng. Who are they?

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Friday, January 9, 2009

Plan for DC-Cam

Youk Chhang at the Documentation Center of Cambodia - DC-Cam to you and me - has just sent me a copy of their planned strategic focus over the next two years to promote memory, justice and reconciliation for the victims and survivors, and their descendants, of the Khmer Rouge regime and its aftermath here in Cambodia. I've posted it here as it's worth reading the whole plan instead of any abridged version I can concoct. We must also remember that DC-Cam are providing the bulk of evidence for the ongoing Khmer Rouge Tribunal that is taking place as we speak.

I. A Physical Legacy

Building a Permanent Genocide Research Center: DC-Cam has begun to build a permanent center to expand our work and ensure a long-term commitment to human rights and genocide prevention in Cambodia. The Cambodian Ministry of Education has generously provided us with a large parcel of land in Phnom Penh for that purpose. The land, which totals nearly 4,800 square meters, is situated on the campus of the Beong Trabek High School, fittingly on the site of a former Khmer Rouge prison. We have enlisted a team of expert architects in New York to design a building complex that will house the permanent center. They are aided by architecture students from Columbia University and the Royal University of Phnom Penh’s School of Fine Arts. We plan to break ground for a new building complex in 2010.

The permanent center will be called the “Sleuk Rith Institute.” That name reflects our core objectives, as well as our Cambodian heritage. Sleuk rith are dried leaves that Cambodian religious leaders and scholars have used for centuries to document history, disseminate knowledge, and even preserve culture during periods of harsh rule. They represent both the beauty of knowledge and the power of human perseverance during times of peril. The permanent center will serve three core functions. First, it will be a physical memorial, encouraging visitors to honor and remember departed victims and all those who suffered under the Khmer Rouge regime. Secondly, the center will be an educational hub, enabling current and future generations to learn about Cambodia’s harrowing past. Education will ensure that Cambodians never forget those who unjustifiably died and suffered, and it will empower them to prevent similar abuses in the future. Finally, the center will be a hub for research, seeking to become the leading Asian institution focused on genocide studies, one that will be connected to leading scholars and other institutions throughout Asia and the wider world.

II. A Legacy of Memory

Genocide Education in Cooperation with the Ministry of Education: Genocide education is crucial if Cambodians are to preserve their history and remember those who perished under Khmer Rouge brutality. Education is also essential if Cambodians are to understand why and how the genocide happened, appreciate the effects of the tragedy, and address the many continuing challenges that flow from the genocide. DC-Cam is currently in the process of working with the Ministry of Education and academic experts to establish a core curriculum on genocide and other crimes against humanity, which will be introduced to Cambodian classrooms at the end of 2009. Together with local and international experts, we are providing in-depth training to 24 Cambodian officials, who will serve as leaders in genocide education. They, in turn, will train 185 educators to lead efforts in various districts throughout Cambodia. We will also host roughly 3,000 secondary school teachers from around the country for shorter basic training programs.

Our curriculum and training program will revolve around DC-Cam’s history textbook The History of Democratic Kampuchea. Our textbook has received plaudits from around the country and the world. It is the first of its kind, educating Cambodian youths about the Khmer Rouge tragedy after three decades of relative silence on the subject in Cambodia’s schools. It is also available in digital format on the Internet, therefore reaching a global audience. Genocide education is a key to liberating the victims of Khmer Rouge terror and transforming them into leaders in the global quest for human rights and dignity. Our work with the Department of Education has received wide international acclaim and support, including from the US Agency for International Development; the governments of Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Germany, and Belgium; the open Society Institute, and the U.S.-based National Endowment for Democracy.

Remembering the Victims of Democratic Kampuchea: DC-Cam also plans to compile and publish a book of names of all those known to have died under the Khmer Rouge regime. The compendium will be based on our research and will tangibly recognize and remember those who perished. To date, there are more than a million names in our databases. New names and related information are still being added. The book will be distributed to every commune in Cambodia and placed in the commune’s office, which will give current and future generations a concrete memorial dedicated to those victims who died. The compendium will also allow families and future generations to be able to trace their family history, a search that for many is still not over. To reach the larger global community, we will post an electronic version online.

III. A Legacy of Justice

Making Our Documents Available Worldwide: Another way DC-Cam will promote memory and justice, at home and abroad, is to digitize over 900 reels of microfilmed documents from our archives. We are now working with Rutgers University in Newark, New Jersey and the Center for Research Libraries to bring about that important goal and make our impressive collection accessible via the internet. Doing so will allow scholars, journalists, media, government and international officials, ordinary Cambodian citizens, and members of the diaspora to conduct effective research on the genocide. Toward that end, we also maintain strong collaboration with the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum.

Examining Crimes by Lower-Level Khmer Rouge Officials: A further goal of our work is to expand the legacy of justice underway at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Court of Cambodia. DC-Cam plans to conduct a study relating to the crimes committed by lower ranking Khmer Rouge cadres. The study will trace various abuses that occurred under the Khmer Rouge regime, looking into the less-researched area of crimes by lower-level members of the regime. In fact, DC-Cam has conducted thousands of interviews of former Khmer Rouge officials and cadres since 2001, with support from the Ministry of the Interior. The study will provide victims, some of whom may feel disconnected from the ongoing criminal process upcoming tribunals, with an opportunity to testify about their own experiences, and thus come to terms with their past. Like South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the study hopes to focus not on placing blame on particular individuals, but rather giving victims a chance to speak and be heard–a crucial step towards national reconciliation and justice.

Commemorating Key Human Rights Laws: Finally, DC-Cam will seek approval from the Royal Government of Cambodia to convene a forum commemorating the passage of key human rights laws. In particular, we intend to highlight the Genocide Convention, the watershed treaty that condemned and prohibited genocide sixty years ago. We also intend to draw attention to the recent ASEAN Human Rights Convention. We hope to lead a forum in collaboration with the Cambodian government, which adopted the Genocide Convention in 1950 and signed the ASEAN Human Rights Convention on December 10, 2008. The former represents one of the bedrocks of modern international human rights law, while the latter expresses a renewed regional commitment to basic human rights and dignity.

The proposed forum will include local and international participants and serve to illuminate the critical continuing need to promote human rights and prevent genocide, in Cambodia and beyond. We hope that the forum will also establish a community of scholars, advocates, officials, and others from inside and outside of Cambodia to carry on that mission. DC-Cam aims to serve as a principal hub in Asia to ensure that atrocities like those in Democratic Kampuchea never happen again.

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Friday, December 26, 2008

History revealed

An entrance to Tuol Sleng in January 1979 (copyright Tuol Sleng Museum)
It's been mooted for many years that potentially important evidence concerning the Khmer Rouge was whisked off to Vietnam during the occupation of Cambodia in the 1980s and that some of that evidence could be crucial to the Khmer Rouge Tribunal currently being held in Phnom Penh. Whether that's conjecture or the truth, it's at least encouraging that the Vietnamese authorities have at long last consented to give up 20 documentary films from the Khmer Rouge period which they are handing to DC Cam this week. Youk Chhang, the Executive Director at DC Cam - who are the main repository for all items pertaining to the Khmer Rouge period - is off to Vietnam to collect the films which are believed to contain general views of the country in the late 70s as well as footage from the Tuol Sleng (S-21) prison at the time it was liberated by the invading Vietnamese forces - 7 January 1979. We have seen some glimpses of footage from around that time on other documentaries like John Pilger's Year Zero and the East German documentary Kampuchea: Death & Rebirth but if it's the original footage of the Vietnamese cameramen as they witnessed Tuol Sleng for the first time then it will be invaluable. Chhang revealed that the Vietnamese authorities have provided photographs and documents in the past but it sounds like they've been doing a spring clean of their archives and have found some more. Wouldn't it be great if they could do a full stock-take and dust off everything they have in their secretive vaults that would assist the Tribunal.
It was a Vietnamese colonel, Mam Lai, who turned the former S-21 prison into a musuem in 1979 and had been the person responsible for the stupa of skulls at Choeung Ek. Lai, the former curator of the American War Crimes museum in Saigon, added the most controversial exhibit at Tuol Sleng - a map of the country constructed out of human skulls - as the Vietnamese deliberately demonized the Khmer Rouge and personalized the "Pol Pot-Ieng Sary genocidal clique." It's clear that photographs and confessions, seen by reliable sources soon after the Tuol Sleng archive left by the retreating Khmer Rouge was discovered, subsequently disappeared but where those invaluable documents ended up isn't known.

On the subject of Tuol Sleng and DC Cam, a new book is just about to be published detailing the story of one of S-21's rare survivors, Bou Meng. In 2002, DC Cam's magazine Searching for the Truth reported that Bou Meng had disappeared and was presumed dead. However, he'd survived and like his fellow inmate Vann Nath, his skill as a portrait painter had saved him, though he lost his wife and two children in the Khmer Rouge slaughter. The 175-page book Bou Meng: A Survivor from Khmer Rouge Prison S-21: Justice for the Future, Not for the Victims, written by researcher Vannak Huy will soon be on sale from DC Cam.
Bou Meng returns to Tuol Sleng

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