Three young Cambodians are being trained by the Shoah Foundation at the University of Southern California to document video testimony of the Khmer Rouge genocide.
The three trainees, one male and two females, sent from the Documentation Centre of Cambodia, are in their early twenties and represent those who were born, raised and educated after the fall of the Khmer Rouge.
Youk Chhang, director of the Documentation Center, said that the agency’s mission is to promote memory, justice and reconciliation and that documenting a balanced testimony requires high technology and good techniques to work with survivors.
“Video documenting is part of our work, but in general Cambodian people are scared of this modern technology, and sometimes when they talk to us they cannot express themselves much,” Youk Chhang said. “Therefore, it requires a professional technique. This is the reason why we sent our three staff to try their best to learn the technique for our future work.”
Youk Chhang said that the training was important because it would help the center speed up visual recording of the testimonies of many survivors, all of whom are getting old and many of whom died without having a chance to testify to their Khmer Rouge experiences for the younger generations.
Karen Jungblut, director of research and documentation at the Shoah Foundation, said that as of last year that the center has extended its work to Cambodia and Rwanda. It is the first time they have accepted such a long internship and training, she said.
The foundation specializes in documenting testimony of holocaust survivors. It has documented 52,000 video testimonies and had them translated into 32 different languages.
The three-month training will include methodology in interviewing survivors by providing a pre-questionnaire, which is a way to help interviewers know in advance the survivor’s background, understanding the events they went through and their impacts. The interns will then interview Cambodian-Americans who lived through the Khmer Rouge, known politically as Democratic Kampuchea. Results of this and future work will be stored at the Shoah Foundation for researchers in North America and at the Documentation Center for researchers in Asia.
Leng Ratthanak, a trainee whose paternal and maternal relatives were killed during Democratic Kampuchea, said: “Our goal is to interview more survivors in all provinces, to get different accounts of the regime, as well as to use the video testimony to educate the younger generation.”
“In the next 10 to 20 years, technology will be more improved, so telling the story verbally or through paper will not be easy to convince them,” Leng Ratthanak said. “But once we have a video testimony this will surely help us a lot, and it will also generate more discussions on the Khmer Rouge genocide in our country.”
The three trainees were selected based on their origins and religions. They are from ethnic Khmer, Khmer-Muslim, and indigenous Phnong minority, and organizers believe that they will mostly represent the Khmer Rouge’s victims.
The selection of young people born after the genocidal regime because they are neither a perpetrator nor a victim and they have an eye wanting to see and to understand the truth as well as having an easy access to both the victims and perpetrators, say Youk Chhang.
Sa Fatily, another trainee, who is a Khmer-Muslim, said that victims from her ethnic group suffered from physical, mental and religious assaults, but there seems to be little documentations about them. She said some victims are still traumatized by the events and do not want to recall it.