• June 13, 2024
 Genocide conference sends clear message to future generations

Genocide conference sends clear message to future generations

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Former Prime Minister and Senate President Hun Sen (2rd R) and Youk Chhang (3rd L), Executive Director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia (DC-Cam), at the ‘Future of Cambodia without Genocide Conference’ held in Phnom Penh from May 20-22. DC-Cam

The Documentation Center of Cambodia (DC-Cam) was proud to hold the first ever “Future of Cambodia without Genocide Conference”, and the success of this conference cannot be understated.

Prime Minister Hun Manet provided the opening remarks at the opening ceremony of the first conference on “The Future of Cambodia Without Genocide” held from May 20 to 22 at Yutti Techo Hall of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces.

All government institutions, both military and civilian, must support the work of genocide education for future generations. We must ensure that teaching history is properly integrated into the public and private school curricula from secondary education to the university level, and all of our teachers can join forces to promote genocide education in schools across the country. Genocide education does not have to be limited to history lessons. We can integrate it into all subjects from Khmer morality and literature to leadership studies and other soft skills development. We can also develop creative ways to tell these difficult stories to people of different ages and generations through arts, digital content, or multimedia.

The ‘Future of Cambodia without Genocide Conference’ was held at the Yutti Techo Hall of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces from May 20-22. DC-Cam

We need to emphasise that the obligation to promote genocide education is the responsibility of all, not just the government. Today’s conference is a great example of good cooperation and solidarity between the various stakeholders. I would like to thank the DC-Cam for assisting the Royal Government in integrating the teaching of the history of genocide into professional and institutional development and in disseminating activities in national and international society, using history to reflect and inspire the future of Cambodia.

As the second keynote speaker, the Special Adviser to the United Nations Secretary-General on the Prevention of Genocide Madam Alice Wairimu Nderitu pointed out that prevention is the most important obligation under the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.

She stated that the Genocide Convention was the first-ever human rights treaty adopted by the United Nations General Assembly, and Cambodia was among the first Southeast Asian countries to pledge its commitment to prevent and punish the crime of genocide. She also highlighted that the experience of Cambodia presents a unique opportunity to share its essential lessons in the region and beyond.

The United States Ambassador-at-Large for Global Criminal Justice Dr Beth Van Schaack also provided keynote remarks stating how memorialisation and education will be a critical component of post-conflict response efforts, and for Cambodia, integrating atrocity crimes studies into the curriculum of current and future generations of Cambodian students is paramount.

Youk Chhang (L), Executive Director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia (DC-Cam), with Royal Cambodian Army Commander General Mao Sophan at the genocide conference held from May 20-22 in Phnom Penh. DC-Cam

She reiterated DC-Cam statements from one recent publication that “The future of post-conflict countries depends upon how governments and their people confront, reconcile, and move forward from their past. The survivors of Cambodia’s violent past are Cambodia’s greatest generation. How we all care for this generation of the twentieth century will be the proof of Cambodia’s commitment to its vision for the twenty-first century.” To this she added, “it is also not only how Cambodia responds to its past, it is how we as members of the wider international community also respond.”

The conference was closed by Hun Sen, former Prime Minister and current President of the Senate and President of Supreme Privy Council of the King, who emphasised the importance of ensuring no one can ever deny that genocide occurred in Cambodia.

Addressing the conference, Mr Hun Sen stated, “The (Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia) reflect the historical fact of the genocidal regime in Cambodia,” and he expressed his gratitude to all the countries who have supported the ECCC to render justice to the more than three million victims who died during the Khmer Rouge regime.

The conference was a tremendous success, and DC-Cam wishes to express its most sincere gratitude and respect to former Prime Minister Hun Sen and current Prime Minister Hun Manet for their words and support in the opening and closing ceremonies and their guidance which helped set the vision and tone for the future.

We also wish to thank all those who have not only supported this conference, but also those who have tirelessly supported DC-Cam over the years. DC-Cam is grateful to His Majesty the King, Her Majesty the Queen Mother, and the entire Royal Family who represent the soul of the Cambodian Nation, and we are thankful to the entire Royal Government of Cambodia, military, police, and all distinguished guests who participated in this conference.

This conference would not have been possible without the support of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), which has provided steadfast support to DC-Cam over the years and the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF), who generously hosted the space at the Yutti Techo Hall for this tremendous event and who continue to collaborate with DC-Cam in the great task of supporting the incorporation of atrocity crimes prevention education into the military professional development system.

The principal goal of this conference was to establish a forum for a critical analysis of Cambodia’s success and the sharing of ideas and best practices in pursuit of genocide prevention and response through education, healthcare, and other disciplines relevant to the task. In line with this goal, the conference sought to promote dialogue between disciplines and institutions because it is only through mutual understanding, relationships, and commitment that we can truly realise a future Cambodia, Southeast Asian region, and world without genocide.

The conference provided many different forums for discussion. There was a panel on the Genocide Convention and the topic of justice. There were also panels on atrocity crimes prevention education and access to healthcare for survivors of the Khmer Rouge regime. These panels were supplemented by breakout sessions, including a session on the memory and oral history of survivors. The conference also included the documentary on Cambodia’s musical legacy “Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten, Cambodia’s Lost Rock & Roll” and the conference intermissions were complemented by a sampling of traditional Khmer music.

I am excited about the success of this conference, and how it fits within DC-Cam’s vision for the future. For almost the last three decades, DC-Cam has been working to document, protect, and raise public awareness of the history of the Khmer Rouge genocide regime. DC-Cam has done this through documentation, archival management, and education activities, which have become the core elements of DC-Cam’s mission.

In addition to these core functions, DC-Cam has also engaged in innovative projects such as the protection of cultural heritage, social enterprise activities, access to health services by Khmer Rouge genocide survivors, youth leadership programmes and support to the Cambodian arts.

Altogether, these projects and activities reflect the past three decades of DC-Cam’s work, which have been critical to not only promoting rigorous research, debate, and inquiry, but ultimately healing and self-reflection.

Documentation, archival management, and education activities have been the core elements of DC-Cam’s work for the last three decades, and we will continue to focus in these areas; however, we endeavour to scale up and out our efforts. We aim to increase not only the institutionalisation of atrocity crimes prevention education in Cambodia, but also extend outward – reaching populations in other countries of the region and beyond. In more than one respect, we have already begun this process.

For several years, DC-Cam has collaborated with a variety of international organisations. In 2023, for example, DC-Cam collaborated on the review of UNESCO’s teacher guide for educators in Africa, and in 2022, in collaboration with the UN’s Office of the Special Advisor on the Prevention of Genocide, we completed our first ever three-part teacher training session on atrocity crimes prevention education with education officials from Vietnam, Thailand, and Cambodia. We look forward to working with the UN, countries in the region and other stakeholders in realising an atrocity crimes prevention education programme for the Southeast and South Asian regions.

As we move forward to capitalise on some of the insights and outputs from this conference, I want to leave some parting thoughts on the future of Cambodia in the region and world. Cambodia has made tremendous progress in realising a future without genocide, but it would be dangerous to assume that we have completed our work. We stand on the precipice of great opportunity, but also tremendous risk.

How do we seize this opportunity? It is difficult to seize opportunities without first having benchmarks, metrics or at least a roadmap in defining success. Defining success in the prevention and response to atrocity crimes is difficult because there are so many different variables and definitions of success. But I think we must start with one agreed upon principle which is that success in the prevention and response of atrocity crimes must be more than just the absence of such crimes. We must do better in defining and measuring success because the phrase “never again” will never truly become real until it can be defined, measured, studied, and in practice, enforced.

The world is changing, and the pace of change is increasing such that we must not only be more informed and prudent in our response to change, but also faster and more decisive. I say this not to diminish the tremendous success Cambodia has achieved, but to underscore the tremendous challenges we must confront. Ignorance, inequality, intolerance, and violent extremism are not new problems, but the pace of change in the twenty-first century far exceeds the pace of change ever experienced by mankind. This pace of change gives us newfound opportunities to identify, prevent and respond to problems and risks faster and more efficiently, but in the same breath, the problems and risks that have plagued mankind for centuries have an even greater potential for overwhelming societal systems. If we do not improve our ability to act more quickly, decisively, and proactively in a unified way, we condemn our children and our children’s children to a more dangerous, brutal world.

Looking beyond this conference, our charge today must be to take decisive action that advances our nation and the international community’s interests in this field. A future Cambodia and a future world without genocide will be built upon what we do now. DC-Cam welcomes your support in this endeavour, and we look forward to advancing this cause in Cambodia, the region, and the world.

Conference’s website: https://www.dccamconference.org/

Youk Chhang is the Executive Director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia (DC-Cam), a founder of the Queen Mother Library and a survivor of the Khmer Rouge’s “killing fields”. In 2000, he received the Truman-Reagan Medal of Freedom, and in 2008 he received the Ramon Magsaysay Award, which is often referred to as Asia’s Nobel Prize. Among his many contributions to truth and justice, he has developed a nationwide genocide education programme, established five regional centres throughout Cambodia to facilitate education, research and reconciliation, and he is working to establish the Queen Mother Library as a joint museum-institute and a leading hub for research and education on genocide for Cambodia, the region, and the world. The Queen Mother Library will become an esteemed repository of knowledge and wisdom guided by principles of consciousness for the benefit and appreciation of both present and future generations.

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