Since its inception, the Documentation Center of Cambodia (DC-Cam) has been at the forefront of documenting the myriad crimes and atrocities of the Khmer Rouge era. DC-Cam was founded after the U.S. Congress passed the Cambodian Genocide Justice Act in April 1994, which was signed into law by President Clinton. That legislation established the Office of Cambodian Genocide Investigations in the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs in July 1994, which was charged with investigating the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge period (1975-1979).
In January 1995 and June 1997, the State Department announced grants to Yale University, enabling Yale’s Cambodian Genocide Program (CGP) to conduct research, training and documentation on the Khmer Rouge regime. The CGP was to assemble evidence concerning the leadership of Democratic Kampuchea (DK) and to determine whether the DK regime violated international criminal laws against genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. The CGP is an academic program and is not equipped to conduct a legal trial of the Khmer Rouge leaders. It had three main objectives: 1) to prepare a documentation survey and index, 2) to undertake historiographical research, and 3) to provide legal training. In pursuit of these objectives, the CGP founded DC-Cam as a field office in Phnom Penh in January 1995 under the leadership of its Program Officer, Mr. Youk Chhang, a survivor of the Khmer Rouge’s “killing fields.”
After the initial State Department grant to the CGP expired at the end of 1996, DC-Cam became an independent Cambodian research institute on January 1, 1997. Since that time, it has continued its extensive research and documentation activities. DC-Cam is not a for-profit, governmental or political organization, and we are not a judicial body. DC-Cam is acknowledged as an independent and nonpartisan institute in Cambodia, and we disseminate information on the Khmer Rouge regime based on our impartial inquiry into facts and history.
The Center continues to serve as a major source of information about this tragic period of human history for academics, lawyers, activists and the general public. DC-Cam is now operated entirely by Cambodians with support from scholars and experts in the USA, Europe, and Asia.
DC-Cam has two main objectives. The first is to record and preserve the history of the Khmer Rouge regime for future generations. The second is to compile and organize information that can serve as potential evidence in a legal accounting for the crimes of the Khmer Rouge. These objectives represent our promotion of memory and justice, both of which are critical foundations for the rule of law and genuine national reconciliation in Cambodia.
To accomplish these objectives, DC-Cam carries out ongoing research to compile and analyze primary documentary materials collected through various means (including fact-finding missions abroad), attempting to understand how they fit into the overall historical context of the Khmer Rouge period. A society cannot know itself if it does not have an accurate memory of its own history. Toward this end, DC-Cam is working to reconstruct Cambodia’s modern history, much of which has been obscured by the flames of war and genocide.
We have catalogued approximately 155,000 pages of primary Khmer Rouge documents and more than 6,000 photographs. The bulk of DC-Cam’s archives have not yet been catalogued, including more than 400,000 additional pages of documents and a wide array of other types of materials. By collecting, preserving and analyzing these individual pieces of historical memory, DC-Cam endeavors to help Cambodians understand the country’s difficult journey through the twentieth century.
As a permanent institute for the study of Cambodia’s history, DC-Cam helps lead the nation toward a more peaceful and prosperous future.
In addition, we regularly catalogue new materials we gather through various means and enter them into computer databases to produce annotated indexes to the archive’s contents. In cooperation with our international partners, we have assembled extensive bibliographic, biographic, photographic and geographic databases of information related to Khmer Rouge abuses. For example, we have located and mapped189 prisons, 19,403 mass graves, and 80 genocide memorials throughout Cambodia. These are invaluable tools for legal scholars, investigators, researchers and historians, shedding light on the details of past abuses and the reasons why they occurred. Our resources also help Cambodians know their own history and to come to terms with it.
Based principally on their examination of DC-Cam holdings, in 1999 a three-member UN Group of Experts found a prima facie case against certain former Khmer Rouge leaders for war crimes, genocide and other crimes against humanity. A memorandum from the United Nations, A/59/432 of 12 October 2004 stated: “It is expected that the Chambers will rely heavily on documentary evidence. Some 200,000 pages of documentary evidence are expected to be examined. The bulk of that documentation is held by the Documentation Centre of Cambodia, an NGO dedicated to research and preservation of documentation on crimes perpetrated during the period of Democratic Kampuchea.” Indeed, we have contributed hundreds of thousands of pages to the UN-backed tribunal established to try some of the crimes of the Khmer Rouge, providing an essential documentary base for the proceedings.
Successfully achieving our two primary objectives of memory and justice will help build a foundation for the rule of law and genuine national reconciliation in Cambodia. We continue to pursue these objectives in several ways—cataloguing primary materials relating to the Khmer Rouge regime, expand the scope of our analysis of these primary materials in collaboration with international experts, and leading projects to keep alive the memory of Cambodia’s genocide. An example of the latter is our highly successful project on genocide education, which led to the adoption of our history textbook and teaching materials in high schools and colleges across the country.
Our quest for memory and justice has more to do with the future than with the past. It is about the struggle for truth in the face of an overwhelming power that virtually destroyed our society, a power that continues in more subtle ways to threaten our aspirations for a peaceful future. The violence of that power shattered Cambodian society and scattered the Cambodian people across the planet in a terrible diaspora. But no matter how far or near to the homeland, and whether they are survivors or the new generation born after the overthrow of Pol Pot, all Cambodians still suffer from a profound sense of dislocation. This dislocation is rooted in a loss deeper than material deprivation or personal bereavement. It is a loss that can never be recovered, and thus full healing of the wounds of genocide will require that something new be built to take the place of that which has been lost. By reconstructing a historical narrative of what happened to Cambodia, and by striving for justice where that is an appropriate remedy, we aim to lay a foundation upon which all Cambodians can find firm footing in moving toward a better future. Reconciliation in Cambodia will happen one heart at a time. Cambodians cannot forgive one another until they know who to forgive, and for what. DC-Cam’s focus on memory and justice seeks to assist Cambodians in discovering the truths upon which a genuine national reconciliation depends.