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Sleuk Rith Institute Designed for Justice and Healing

A new institute planned in Phnom Penh will seek to heal the wounds of the Khmer Rouge. That principle is built into the very concept and design of the Sleuk Rith Institute.

The institute, designed by renowned architect Zaha Hadid, will include archives from the Documentation Center of Cambodia, a museum and research library and a genocide education center.

“I think that Cambodia needs reconciliation, mental healing, and forward movement because we have stepped backwards for over three decades,” Chhang Youk, head of the Documentation Center, told VOA Khmer in an interview. “Therefore I have a new idea that we have to remember, but we have to move on. We should not become slaves of history, but we have to know it, because it relates to the our present and future.”

Sleuk Rith will house a vast archive of documents detailing Khmer Rouge atrocities, with a lower portion of the museum dedicated to Khmer Rouge history.

But the upper levels will house contemporary art, Chhang Youk said.

Zaha Hadid told the Guardian the design of the institute is meant to invoke healing.

“This is very different to our other projects,” Hadid told the Guardian. “It is the first time we have used wood, to create a warmer, softer mood, and in time it will weather and take on a more natural looking feel.”

The institute will be built inside a high school compound once used by the Khmer Rouge as a correction center.

The design includes echoes of Angkor Wat and other Cambodian temples and is dedicated to memory, justice and healing. Five buildings on the ground spread up, tree-like, and are connected at the top. The grounds will include plants with medicinal properties.

“All the plants that we grow at the memorial can be used as medicine for both physical and mental treatment,” Chhang Youk said.

Sleuk Rith will be the only institute in Asia dedicated to the study of genocide. “Therefore, not only Cambodian students, but foreign as well can come to study Cambodian history,” Chhang Youk said. “We make this into a global issue.”

The government says it will support and promote the institute, in hopes of creating an internationally renowned facility for genocide and human rights education.

“This is not a normal action, but a crucial one to remember victims of the Khmer Rouge’s brutal regime,” Education Minister Hang Chhuon Naron said.