“Breaking The Silence” is a play designed to encourage people to talk among each other about their experiences under the Khmer Rouge.
In much of Cambodia today, families still live among those who were members of the regime. They may never talk to each other or acknowledge their experiences.
“Breaking the Silence,” which was performed at Chaktomuk theater in Phnom Penh on Sunday, is a series of short skits designed to show people how they can begin a process of reconciliation.
The idea of reconciliation was highlighted by the verdict of former Khmer Rouge prison chief Duch, who received a commuted sentence of 19 years from the UN-backed tribunal last month for overseeing the torture and execution of more than 12,000 people at Tuol Sleng prison.
But following Sunday's performance, the audience was split on whether the ideas in “Breaking the Silence” can help.
“I thought this story, 'Breaking the Silence,' was an encouragement to push the people who used to make mistakes to dare to confess those mistakes,” Sok Lang, an employee of the Center for Justice and Reconciliation, told VOA Khmer after the show. “Because the story also explained that sometimes those people had committed cruel things just because of following orders.”
In his tribunal defense, Duch, whose real name is Kaing Kek Iev, said he had been following orders. He took responsibility for the crimes committed under his watch, and he asked for forgiveness from those who lost family at the prison.
Sok Lang said he wanted other Khmer Rouge cadre to publicly apologize. “And we also want those who suffered to accept the apologies, because it is the only way to reconcile our nation.”
Not everyone was convinced that reconciliation will work.
Sok Chea, another audience member, said he had lost his father, all her father's relatives, and all her mother's relatives to the Khmer Rouge.
“Therefore, what they want for reconciliation for me, by showing this play, was just on the surface of my pain,” she said. “But for my real heart, it cannot. The Khmer Rouge regime is unforgettable for me. What they want for reconciliation for us cannot make us do away with our pain.”