Catalyst Asia: Looking to Understand, and Heal, After a Genocide

March 3, 2015

 Youk Chhang in his office at Documentation Center of Cambodia. (Credit: Dene-Hern Chen)

Youk Chhang in his office at Documentation Center of Cambodia. (Credit: Dene-Hern Chen)

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia – Youk Chhang’s vision was initially borne out of hatred – an unlikely beginning for an organisation that is responsible for the healing of a nationwide trauma.

At age 17, the Phnom Penh native had survived the genocidal regime of the Khmer Rouge, but just barely. The Khmer Rouge’s ultra-Maoist policies led to the death, starvation and separation of thousands of families. When the regime ended on January 7, 1979 – after three years, eight months and 20 days – approximately two million people had been killed, with thousands buried in mass graves all over the country.

The youngest of six children, only Youk and three of his sisters remained; most of his extended family had perished under the party’s cruel watch.

“I must admit I was looking for a way to take revenge rather than to reconcile with the perpetrators who committed the crimes against my family and many others,” Youk said, seated in his office bathed in natural light.

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