Youk Chhang, the executive director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia (DC-Cam) has won the 2018 Ramon Magsaysay Award, a prestigious prize that is often referred to as Asia’s Nobel Prize.
Five other Asians -- Maria De Lourdes Martins Cruz from East Timor, Howard Dee from the Philippines, Bharat Vatwani and Sonam Wangchuk from India, and Vo Thi Hoang Yen from Vietnam -- were also granted the prize.
"The Magsaysay awardees of 2018 are clearly Asia's heroes of hope, moving their societies forward through their unique vocal pursuit of the larger good," Carmencita Abella, president of the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation (RMAF), said in a statement. "Their approaches are all deeply anchored on a respect for human dignity, and a faith in the power of collective endeavor.”
The award recognized Chhang’s work in preserving the memory of the Khmer Rouge mass killings and lifelong mission to work on a process of restorative justice, the statement added.
In his acceptance letter, Chhang said “it is important to remember the mistakes of the past,” adding that justice “will always begin and end with the duty of memory.”
Chhang founded DC-Cam in 1995 aiming to promote memory and justice for national reconciliation. He founded the Sleuk Rith Institute to serve as a research center on Khmer Rouge atrocities.
“Despite the destruction, loss, or absence of records, DC-Cam was able to collect and assemble over one million documents, providing over half of these as evidence in the war crimes trials,” the RMAF statement reads.
As a survivor of the Khmer Rouge regime, Chhang was tortured and detained and lost dozens of relatives, including his father and five of his siblings.
“For me, you know it’s a responsibility. This is my responsibility as a survivor,” he told Rappler. "I have to do the best of my ability, and I have to do it honestly because it's not just for others but my own family as well.”
“This award is a reminder, on behalf of my mother and all mothers in Cambodia who have survived the genocide,” he wrote in his acceptance letter.