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‘S-21’ Survivor Receives Human Rights Award

As one of only seven survivors of the notorious Tuol Sleng torture camp, Van Nath has been selected to receive the Hellman/Hammett grants, according to a statement released by Human Rights Watch Tuesday.

Only forty-five writers from 22 countries have received Hellman/Hammett grants this year. The award recognizes the courage of the men and women who have faced with political persecution.

The 62-year old survived the torture center, also known as “S-21” prison, when the Khmer Rouge guards discovered his talent for painting. He was later forced to do portraits of Pol Pot until the Vietnamese toppled the regime in January 1979.

Marcia Allina, program coordinator for Hellmann/Hammett says that Van Nath’s paintings and writing are very important because “Van Nath’s memoirs and paintings of Tuol Sleng are key evidence to the brutal slayings ordered by the Khmer Rouge’s institution”, she said.

Van Nath knows he is likely to be called as a witness to speak out against the leaders of the 1975-1979 regimes that killed up to 2 million Cambodians. Van Nath tells VOA Khmer that he will testify in court, should they need his testimony.

In the mid 1990s, Vann Nath wrote a memoir called "A Cambodian Prison Portrait", which is the only written account by a survivor of Tuol Sleng. The book along with his paintings provide a rare glimpse into the makings behind the Pol Pot regime.