Socheata Poeuv, a visiting fellow at the Yale University Genocide Studies Program, is the founder and director of Khmer Legacies, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving the history of the Cambodian genocide by recording video testimonials of its survivors. In this interview (conducted by Teague Schneiter), Poeuv reflects on how archives - and specifically Khmer Legacies' video archives - help protect human rights by redefining the way we record, preserve, and ultimately understand genocide and mass atrocities. She discusses some of the particularities of video testimonies, as well as the ethical concerns inherent to the online distribution of video content. This video is part of our ongoing spotlight on The Role of Archives in Human Rights.
Poeuv was born in a Thai refugee camp after her parents escaped the oppressive Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia. From 1975 until 1979, the Khmer Rouge tortured, starved, murdered and was ultimately responsible for the death of an estimated 1.7 million of its people. In a radical attempt to eliminate the educated class in favour of creating a peasant society - and a return to “Year Zero” - Cambodians were forced from their homes and the country was turned into one large labor camp populated with extermination and burial sites known as The Killing Fields.
It was not until 2006 that a tribunal – The Extraordinary Chambers of the Courts of Cambodia for the Prosecution of Crimes Committed During the Period of Democratic Kampuchea - was established as a hybrid UN-Cambodian effort to put some of the surviving perpetrators on trial. And, it was not until this year that trials have actually begun.
Today, Cambodians still struggle to make sense of the mass atrocities of 30 years ago; in some cases the younger generations deny the genocide ever happened, and many who lived through it wish to forget it did.
Poeuv was an adult before she learned the truth about her own family's history. The silence in her own family prompted Poeuv to take action. As she said to the NY Times Magazine: "You've got to change the silence that surrounds this, and the way that Cambodian parents talk to their children and children talk to their parents. There really is a threat of this culture being completely invisible if people don’t step forward to remember and distinguish it." In 2008, Poeuv released the award-winning feature documentary New Year Baby, about her family's silence about the Khmer Rouge, and their journey to America. Here's the trailer:
Khmer Legacies represents a more grassroots approach to transitional justice than the approaches of the tribunals because it allows survivors and their kin to tell their own stories under their own terms - having the younger generation interview the older generation. Through the collecting and sharing of stories, Khmer Legacies hopes to: promote healing and conquer shame; bridge the generational divide between Cambodian parents and their children; and help prevent future mass atrocities through education, understanding and the preservation of truth.
• Learn more about Socheata Poeuv and Khmer Legacies, by visiting their website.
• Learn more about the film New Year Baby.
• To learn about the late Dith Pran, a Khmer Rouge survivor and journalist for The New York Times, watch this video.
• Recommended reading: When the War was Over, by Elizabeth Becker
***NOTE: This post was a collaboration between Michele DeLia, Teague Schneiter & Grace Lile.