Magazine Documenting Khmer Rouge Years Reaches New Audience

Prak Khan is a farmer and a businessman. He and his wife, whom he married in the 1980s, have had five children and have given them an average standard of living. When visitors drop by Prak Khan’s home in a remote village in Takeo province, they are greeted warmly and politely and asked to sit on a red carpet. Fellow villagers say they like Prak Khan, his wife and his children.

Researchers at the Documentation Center of Cambodia know Prak Khan by name be­cause his signature appears on 53 written confessions of prisoners held at the Tuol Sleng political prison during the 1975-1979 Khmer Rouge regime. More than 14,000 people were tortured and killed at the notorious prison, also known as S-21.

Fifty-one documents held at DC-Cam describe Prak Khan as an “interrogator.” The other two state he was a “re-writer,” according to an article published in the October 2000 issue of “Searching for the Truth,” DC-Cam’s monthly magazine that chronicles the Khmer Rouge’s bloody regime.

DC-Cam researcher Osman Ysa got to know Prak Khan in person during an interview last year. With the help of a two-page biography Prak Khan wrote during the Khmer Rouge regime—one of hundreds of thousands of documents relating to the Khmer Rouge regime kept by DC-Cam—the researcher was able to track him down in Takeo, the article stated.

Prak Khan admitted to Osman Ysa that he worked at S-21, a revelation that apparently surprised his wife. But he claimed he was only a security guard, not an interrogator. Later on in the interview, he expressed remorse.

“I have experienced bitterness. Since then I have never committed such evil activities. I do acts of merit. At that time their rule required me to do so,” Prak Khan is quoted as saying. “Now I realize my mistakes. I will never commit such acts again. I know it is a big thing, so big that I cannot even say a word.”

Osman Ysa’s article about Prak Khan is one of many things about the Khmer Rouge regime that DC-Cam has been publishing since January 2000, when Khmer-language editions of “Searching for the Truth” began appearing on newsstands.

But readers unable to read Khmer could not access the information provided by the magazine until earlier this month, when English-language translations of the magazine were sent to newsstands. With funding from the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, English translations of the 12 magazines published in 2000 were produced. Next month, English editions of the 12 issues published in 2001 will also be available.

“We publish in English so that the world can know what Khmer people are debating,” said Youk Chhang, director of DC-Cam. “It is important for English speakers to know how Cambodians view their history and to see how they cope with it. But this isn’t just about Cambodia. It is also about humanity.”

The magazine, which also receives funding from Norway, Canada and the Netherlands, highlights key documents kept at the center, legal principles that could be used in an upcoming trial of former Khmer Rouge leaders, essays by legal and genocide experts, confessions from Tuol Sleng, personal accounts of those who suffered during the brutal regime, songs sung in the fields by Khmer Rouge cadre and workers, and a column describing the efforts of DC-Cam to gather information about missing family members.

The magazine will also provide coverage of the international tribunal of former Khmer Rouge leaders, once trial proceedings begin. Promoting a better understanding of the tribunal’s legal procedure and providing a forum for debate over the way the tribunal is conducted are two of the magazine’s goals.

The magazine’s second issue, published in February 2000, contains essays about the definition of genocide and crimes against humanity. The March 2000 issue has an essay about the role of confessions and hearsay as evidence in the tribunal.

Typical fare includes articles about the 1965 break in US-Cambodian diplomatic relations, the massacre of the ethnic Chams of Koh Phal village in Kompong Cham province, the “killing pits” in Banteay Meanchey province and an essay written by a young woman who learned the long unknown fate of her disappeared uncle when she discovered his Tuol Sleng confession while working as a volunteer for DC-Cam.

To prove that the magazine is chronicling crimes against all of humanity, and not just about what happened to Cambodians during the Khmer Rouge years, there are also articles and essays about genocide in Rwanda and the crimes that former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet is accused of committing.

One article recounts Israel’s 1961-1962 trial of Nazi Germany official Adolf Eichmann. As head of the Nazi’s secret Gestapo police department, Eichmann was in charge of the “final solution,” in which six million European Jews were killed during the 1930s and 1940s.

Like many former Khmer Rouge officials, Eichmann claimed he merely acted under the orders of his superiors. Israel’s courts convicted him of crimes against the Jewish people, crimes against humanity and war crimes. He

 

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