META House, Phnom Penh
May 23, 2016
Good evening, everyone. It is a great honor to be here with you today for this important event. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Transcultural Psychosocial Organization for organizing this video screening and for inviting me to speak to all of you. And a special thanks to Meta House for hosting tonight, always a great venue for raising discussions of human rights and social justice.
As we all know, Cambodia has suffered through many painful years of civil war, including – but not limited to – the almost unimaginable atrocities committed under the Khmer Rouge regime. During those years, some of the darkest known to humanity, more than 1.7 million Cambodians died from starvation, forced labor, torture, and execution. The psychological effects have lingered to this day.
Why do these atrocities matter to us here and now in 2016? I’m strong believer that there is no better teacher than the past. Remembering and understanding the history of such crimes is critical not only to fathoming where we are today, but also to helping us build a better future as a nation and a society.
In an effort to bring about peace, reconciliation, and healing, the Cambodian government reintegrated many former Khmer Rouge soldiers in the late 1990s. The government continues to support transitional justice work in a number of ways. One example is the creation of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia in cooperation with the United Nations to try those most responsible for crimes committed during the Khmer Rouge period. The United States is proud to be a longtime supporter of the ECCC. In the first sentence it handed down, the ECCC convicted Kaing Kek Iev (KANG KUK EEYOO), aka Duch (DOIK), who ran the infamous S21 prison during the Khmer Rouge’s rule. A Victims Support Section was also established as part of this ECCC structure.
The U.S. government is committed to providing support to TPO and other organizations working in the transitional justice sector. Through a three-year, USAID-funded project entitled “Truth, Reconciliation and Healing towards a Shared Future,” TPO works directly with former Khmer Rouge members and with the survivors of the regime. Their extraordinary efforts have helped Cambodian people cope with trauma and learn how to live peacefully together in the same communities regardless if one was a former Khmer Rouge member or a survivor of the Khmer Rouge regime. Without TPOs efforts, many people who suffered under the Khmer Rouge would be unable to move forward with their lives.
Today’s event marks another milestone of this work. This video will hopefully enable young Cambodians – and Cambodians of all ages – to better understand what happened during those difficult years. Many of us here can’t possibly step into the shoes of those who experienced the Khmer Rouge era and imagine what the survivors went through. But we hope activities like this will help pave the way for small steps towards reconciliation and recovery.
The courage to have this type of dialogue represents the resilience of the Cambodian people and the rays of light and hope that can be passed on to the next generation. I wish everyone continued success as you work to promote transitional justice and trauma healing.