Wednesday, March 29, 2017

A thief in the night

On November 29, at 4:25 a.m., a bandit invaded my house. Just as he crawled and moved towards the stairs, I happened to walk down. So, we met. As I chased him, I noticed that he was a young skinny boy of about 12 or 14 years old. He wore black clothes and a white krama covered his head. He ran towards the rear side of the house, trying to escape by climbing down a small set of steps. But I caught his hand. Then, all of a sudden, he reminded me of the Khmer Rouge time. I was about his age when I stole rice from the rice fields for my pregnant sister who had been starving for months and months. The boy triggered the bad memories of how much I suffered when Khmer Rouge guards hit me with an axe, and of how desperately I wanted to live.
The guards put me in jail for weeks and I had to endure their cruel punishments. That painful memory is still with me today, and it returned most vividly last night when I caught the boy's hand. Emotionally, I released his hand allowing him to escape. Had I pushed him a bit, he would have fallen to the ground from the three-story building and would have died instantly.
I am glad that I decided not to do that. Even though I released him, I still wanted to teach him that stealing is wrong. So I alerted the neighbors. Panicking and confused, the boy dropped himself from the building and ran towards the fully lit streets where morning exercise people and a restaurant security guard were chatting. The guard chased him, holding a big stick. Suddenly, everyone who saw the incident screamed: "Arrest the boy but do not beat him." He was caught by the security guard, who later decided to let him go home. I could not go back to sleep, but I felt relieved that my bad memories probably saved the boy's life, and also taught me to forgive. I was also impressed with how those witnessing the incident responded to such an incident. If people don't take the law into their own hands, there is hope for better human rights protection.
I hope the boy has learned a lesson, and that from now on he will try to be a good person. I hope someone can convey my message to him.
Youk Chhang - Director, Documentation Center of Cambodia, Phnom Penh.

Friday, March 3, 2017

DC-Cam to Help Burma Record Rights Abuses

BY  | 

Prominent Khmer Rouge research organization the Documentation Center of Cambodia (DC-Cam) is collaborating with a network of Burmese groups seeking to create an archive of human rights abuses in Burma as the country transitions from a military regime to a fledging democracy.

The Network for Human Rights Documentation-Burma (ND-Burma), which includes local NGOs dedicated to advocating for Burmese political prisoners, ethnic minorities and women’s rights, is planning to implement the Unofficial Truth Project (UTP), which will document ongoing rights violations in the country, Han Gyi, a coordinator for ND-Burma, said by email.

DC-Cam Director Youk Chhang visited Burma last month to discuss the challenges that come with documenting human rights violations, said Mr. Han Gyi, adding that the Cambodian center’s expertise in compiling and understanding documents and evidence would be helpful in assisting ND-Burma.

“The project aims to provide a basis for the government to provide reparations, especially to those with urgent needs,” Mr. Han Gyi said. “In the long term, the aim is to prevent serious human rights violations.”

Because many members of the current government are from the previous regime, the word “truth-seeking” or “truth commission” in the vein of DC-Cam would be considered threatening, said Mr. Han Gyi, which is why it is, for now, an unofficial project.

After decades of military rule, Burma is opening up, introducing reforms such as free elections, increased press freedom and the release of some political prisoners.

However, human rights violations still persist in the country, most recently due to the growing polarization between Buddhists and minority Muslims. In the past year, more than 200 people have been killed in religious clashes and more than 150,000 have been displaced—the majority stateless Muslims known as the Rohingya.

Mr. Chhang said Sunday that ND-Burma would be sending some members to Cambodia on August 11 for about two months to learn documentation techniques.

“For me, it is fortunate to have the chance…to guide them through the political minefield of a project of this sort, caught between the sometimes polar opposites of ensuring that historical records are preserved in their entirety and maintaining a sufficiently positive relationship with both the…government and the background players which inevitably will include key remnants of the old regime,” he said.

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