At Unveiling of S-21 Stupa, Ambassador Calls on Youth

At a ceremony to inaugurate a new stupa at Phnom Penh’s Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum on Thursday, German Ambassador Joachim Baron von Marschall urged young Cambodians to be less reluctant to speak openly about the Khmer Rouge era, noting that it was Germany’s youth in the 1970s who “asked uncomfortable questions” about the Holocaust.

“As you no doubt know, my country went through a very dark period,” Mr. von Marschall told the roughly 200 people who gathered for the memorial’s unveiling Thursday morning at what was once the S-21 prison, where more than 12,000 people were tortured and put to death during the Pol Pot era.

A stupa inscribed with the words 'Never will we forget the crimes committed during the Democratic Kampuchea regime' is unveiled Thursday at Phnom Penh's Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)
A stupa inscribed with the words ‘Never will we forget the crimes committed during the Democratic Kampuchea regime’ is unveiled Thursday at Phnom Penh’s Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

“It is by no means a coincidence that my government has decided not only to support the ECCC [Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia] but also the Victim Support Section of the court,” he said.

Mr. von Marschall said that Germany took its responsibility to Holocaust survivors seriously, too, explaining that a 10-billion-euro fund had been established in his home country to compensate the still-living victims of the Nazi genocide.

The ambassador encouraged young people in Cambodia to take the lead in pushing for public discussion of the Khmer Rouge, as German youths had done in the 1970s, and not let their parents’ fear of the subject influence their own behavior.

“Talking to young people in Cambodia, I have discovered a reluctance to deal with the subject. Like their parents and grandparents, many feel they should leave their past alone and look to the future,” he said.

“The consequence of this reluctance is, however, that it is the young generation who will carry the burden of their parents’ and grandparents’ legacy,” he added.

Chum Neou, 66, a former Khmer Rouge cadre and civil party participating in the ECCC who joined Thursday’s ceremony, said the stupa was not enough.

“I heard the German ambassador this morning say that he offered [10 billion] euros to the victims [of the Holocaust]. Why doesn’t Cambodia do that?” said Ms. Neou, whose husband was arrested and taken to S-21 prison. She said most former Khmer Rouge are elderly and in need of medicine and other heath services.

But in a press conference after the unveiling of the stupa—which cost roughly $80,000 and was funded mostly by Germany—Deputy Prime Minister Sok An said the government could not afford to offer individual reparations.

“We cannot provide individual financial reparations to the victims. That’s why the government, international community, particularly the United Nations in the context of the ECCC, is trying to provide a memorial and collective reparations,” he said.

Dim Sovannarom, chief of public affairs at the ECCC, said that individual reparations were not only unfeasible, but also not provided for in the court’s rules.

“Individual financial reparation is impossible because it is not legal. According to the jurisdiction of the ECCC, in Article 23 of its internal rules, there is only moral and collective reparations.”

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