Saturday, January 05, 2008

Remembering the victims

A memorial stupa dedicated to those killed by the Khmer Rouge at Wat Ka Koh
Having recently visited a handful of smaller genocide memorials near Phnom Penh, erected to honour the 1.7 million deaths that occurred under the genocidal regime of the Khmer Rouge between 1975-1979, I expected one or both of the two key locations in the city, the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum or Choeung Ek Genocide Center, to hold remembrance services on Monday 7 January, as part of the Victory over Genocide Day anniversary - recalling the day 29 years ago that the KR were kicked out of Phnom Penh. However, the response to my telephone enquiries proved negative, with Choeung Ek informing me that ceremonies are held only on 17 April (the anniversary of the fall of Phnom Penh to the Khmer Rouge) by the Sam Rainsy Party and on 20 May, which has been declared the National Day of Hatred since 1984. As a newcomer to living in Cambodia, this came as news to me, especially with the prime minister, Hun Sen's recent reminder to the nation: “Forgetting 7 January is like forgetting one’s parents, because if we look at ourselves, the grandfathers and grandmothers, everybody during that time, if they were not liberated on time, will they live today or not? No, they wouldn’t live.” Monday will be a public holiday for all government and private sector staff and I expect there to be some public recognition of the event, but it appears it's not taking place at either of the sites I would've expected it to be at.

The New York Times reported the first National Day of Hatred back in May 1984 was the scene of a mass gathering held in Phnom Penh. It said the Day of Hatred was called to allow people to vent their anger against Mr. Pol Pot and other enemies of the nation, including the ''American imperialists'' and the ''Chinese expansionists.'' The Cambodian press agency said May 20, 1975, ''was the day the Pol Pot gang began to implement its systematic, overt and savage genocidal policy against the Kampuchean people throughout the country.'' Throughout the '80s, “the radio played lugubrious music punctuated by crying to recall the horrors of the Khmer Rouge; theatrical productions reminded audiences of the massacres [by the Khmer Rouge] in detail,” while the '90s saw "officials and schoolchildren…summoned to ceremonies at which they heard speeches and burned paper effigies of Pol Pot.”
Whichever date is chosen, 29 years after the expulsion of the Khmer Rouge from Phnom Penh, I think it's still vitally important that Cambodia remembers those that died, and equally those that lived, scarred forever by their experiences, with a suitable remembrance service.


Andy said...

Cambodia observes anniversary of fall of Khmer Rouge - by DPA

Cambodia remembered the fall of the Khmer Rouge regime Monday with a celebration at the headquarters of the ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP). "Despite passing a period of 29 years, we all still remember the horrors caused during the period of three years, eight months and 20 days by Pol Pot's Democratic Kampuchea regime after it took power on April 17, 1975," CPP and Senate President Chea Sim said in a speech to about 5,000 CPP loyalists.

"They reduced the country's social infrastucture to complete ruin while depriving individuals of rights and freedoms and reducing them to slaves living inhumane lives," he added in a speech to mark the 1979 anniversary when Vietnamese-backed troops retook Phnom Penh.

For the second year in a row, Chea Sim reaffirmed the CPP's commitment to a UN-Cambodia tribunal established to try former Khmer Rouge leaders despite allegations by some groups that the CPP had tried to stall the hearings.

Five former Khmer Rouge leaders are in custody awaiting trial on charges of human rights abuses and war crimes. Hearings are hoped to get under way early this year, but those close to the court have already expressed concerns that the tribunal's 56-million-dollar budget would not be enough.

Many prominent CPP members are former Khmer Rouge who became disillusioned with the movement's ultra-Maoist policies, under which up to 2 million Cambodians perished.

Key CPP cadre, including Prime Minister Hun Sen, defected to Vietnam and returned with Vietnamese backing to oust the Khmer Rouge from power.

Other parties have accused the CPP of hijacking the anniversary, but CPP officials maintained many opposition leaders fled the civil war and were not in Cambodia at the time and so do not understand history accurately.

Copyright, respective author or news agency

Andy said...

Red Pepper Magazine
7 January

’The Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh, was captured today, Vietnam and the insurgent front it is backing in Cambodia announced tonight.

The regime of dictatorial, militarist domination of the Pol Pot-Ieng Sary clique has completely collapsed, the radio announcement declared. Nothing was said about the whereabouts of Prime Minister Pol Pot and Deputy Prime Minister Ieng Sary.’ New York Times, 7 January 1979

Saloth Sar, better known as Pol Pot or Brother Number One, along with his Khmer Rouge regime was responsble for the deaths of an estimated 1.7 million Cambodians between 1975 and 1979 (other estimates put it at some 25 per cent of the population). His ‘Year Zero’ vision of an agrarian economy was partly inspired by China’s Cultural Revolution.

‘There are no schools, faculties or universities in the traditional sense, although they did exist in our country prior to liberation, because we wish to do away with all vestiges of the past. There is no money, no commerce, as the state takes care of provisioning all its citizens. The cities have been resettled as this is the way things had to be.’ Pol Pot 1978

Consistently throughout the 1980s, the United States blocked international efforts to hold the Khmer Rouge guilty of genocide and declare Pol Pot a war criminal. It was only after an internal struggle among the remaining Khmer Rouge that Pol Pot was arrested in July 1997 and charged with treason. Sentenced to life under house arrest he later declared, ‘My conscience is clear.’