Although the cover is sleek and the photograph of black-clad Khmer Rouge leaders provocative, Cambodia’s newest magazine reads more like a “textbook or a journal” than a popular glossy, says its founder and editor, Youk Chhang.
“It’s history, so of course it’s not new,” he says of his latest venture, titled “Searching for the Truth.” But he adds that it’s “flavored” with interviews and art to make it more like a magazine.
Director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia, Youk Chhang has collected potential evidence against one-time leaders of the Khmer Rouge movement since 1995.
“Searching for the Truth” for years has been his motto; now it is his monthly project.
Written entirely in Khmer, the 74-page magazine highlights key documents kept at the center, legal principles that could be used in an upcoming trial of former Khmer Rouge leaders, maps from Khmer Rouge textbooks, essays by legal and genocide experts, confessions from the notorious Tuol Sleng torture prison and personal accounts of those who suffered during the brutal regime that claimed at least 1 million lives.
The words are written in 1940s-style Khmer script, which has been made into a computer font now used at the center, employing language and grammar not used since the 1960s. Youk Chhang says monks helped with the script, along with dozens of translators, contributors and editors.
“We selected the most high-profile primary sources. But we tried to present them in the simplest, peasant language. The aim is to educate people about history, about law,” Youk Chhang says.
“One way is to let people—especially in the provinces—know more about what happened, to really let them confront the situation.”
Of particular interest to NGOs is a section on public debate, in light of recent NGO-sponsored forums held on the Khmer Rouge and national reconciliation.
Youk Chhang donated 300 copies of the magazine to the Center for Social Development, which in the coming weeks will hold two more forums.
“This is a very good piece of history,” said Chea Vannath, president of the Center for Social Development. “If people want to find out what happened to their relatives, they might be able to find it here.”
Yet she warned that the magazine’s staid style might not be appealing to all readers. “I’m not saying it has be to full of color, but it must be attractive to reach as many people as possible.”
Not only has the magazine been noticed by NGOs, but it has received accolades from political parties as well, including high-ranking members of the ruling CPP—some of whom once were aligned with the Khmer Rouge.
The project is funded in part by the human rights section of the Royal Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Oslo, Norway.
But Youk Chhang says he was only able to produce 3,000 copies of the inaugural issue, with 2,400 of those going to the provinces to be distributed through provincial governors.
“We want to do more, but we just can’t right now,” Youk Chhang says, adding that the original aim was to print tens of thousands of copies each month.
He also worries that in certain areas, like the former Khmer Rouge stronghold of Pailin, officials will be less likely to distribute material potentially damning to those once allied with the regime.
Youk Chhang says he likely will use other means to distribute magazines in the former guerrilla zones.
The next magazine should have more previously unpublished photographs than the current issue, he says, so people can identify those responsible for their suffering during the regime of 1975-1979.
“I have wanted to do this for some time,” Youk Chhang says. “Out in the field, people keep giving us their stories of what happened to them. And we wanted a chance to give them back.”
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