Cambodia’s Youk Chhang: Why We Must Fight for Justice After Genocide

“Memory is one thing, but demanding justice is another,” says Youk Chhang.

Chhang has devoted his life to balancing this tension, honoring those killed by Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge regime while holding the genocide’s perpetrators accountable.

His mission is deeply personal: as a teenager, Chhang was tortured for picking plants to feed his pregnant and starving sister, who was later killed when a soldier split open her stomach to see if she had stolen rice. She hadn’t. The regime ultimately killed a quarter of all Cambodians, about 2 million people, between 1975 and 1979. Chhang’s own life was saved by a stranger — “a hero without a name,” he says — who was killed in his place.

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