S-21 marks UNESCO listing

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A visitor to the Toul Sleng Genocide Museum contemplates photos of S-21 prisoners executed by the Khmer Rouge at the site in the 1970’s. Hong Menea

July 31 marked the 12th anniversary of the listing of Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum Archive in UNESCO’s Memory of the World Programme. This year, it was observed virtually due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts spokesman Long Bunna Sireyvath told The Post on August 1 that the ministry has marked the occasion every year since the archive was listed in 2009. It aims to spread awareness around the world to prevent crimes against humanity.

Though observed annually, Bunna Sireyvath said it is not as big an event as listing the Preah Vihear Temple as a World Heritage Site. He said it is normally marked with speeches by officials with the participation of embassy representatives and international organisations.

“However, this year the ministry has not been able to hold a gathering. We only posted messages and videos on Facebook, along with tributes from embassy and international representatives. This is a World Programme, so we cannot cancel this event,” he said.

Hang Nisay, director of the museum, said that since the Archive was listed in 2009, the ministry and the museum has received support from national and international experts to preserve all remaining documents from the Khmer Rouge’s notorious S-21 detention centre, which represented more than 400,000 pages.

He said that in 2018, the museum – with support from the Korea International Cooperation Agency in coordination with UNESCO, as well as technical support from Digital Divide Data – had copied and archived data to the database.

According to Nisay, through this project, the museum has created an archival website where the public can search for information about relatives and search for documents related to the history of the Khmer Rouge.

Nisay said the more than 400,000 documents have been preserved and maintained, museum staff trained and information is available to the public on the website.

He said the project was scheduled to be completed by 2021 but now faces hurdles due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

However, the museum has copied all documents, including photos, confessions, and Khmer Rouge books, and archived the data into database.

“We maintain and preserve all these documents for all time because our goal is for people from everywhere to be able to access, study, research and use this information. We will promote the website so many people will use it,” he added.