Speech of the German Ambassador to the victims of the Khmer Rouge Regime
Mr. Hang Vannak,
Excellency Kranh Tony,
Dear participants at the Civil Party meeting
Ladies and gentlemen,
I am honoured to have been invited to today's Meeting. It touches me to meet you, the victims of the Khmer Rouge terror. You have experienced what few people have known in their lives – the permanent fear of being executed, the loss of loved ones, permanent hunger and exhaustion, humiliation by people who distrusted, perhaps hated you for no reason – people who hid behind what they called „Angkar“, a faceless, inhuman organization which did not know justice or mercy.
I come from a country with a troubled history. Perhaps you have heard about the atrocities inflicted by the Naazi regime on those members of German society who were considered undesirable because of their race and beliefs, more than two generations ago. Like the majority of young people in Cambodia, I am fortunate never to have suffered the pain you and many of my fellow countrymen suffered . I have, however, read and heard a lot about this suffering, – about the Nazi regime and, after I arrived in Cambodia last year, about the Khmer Rouge regime. I believe it is the duty of all of us who have been spared your ordeal to at least know what happened, to reflect on it and to draw our own lessons. This is the least we can do. We cannot change history – what has been done cannot be undone. But if we do not know our history and do not learn the lessons it teaches us we run the risk of repeating it, sooner or later.
Ladies and gentlemen,
two months ago the Extraordinary Chamber of the Courts of Cambodia for the second time issued a judgment, bringing to justice two perpetrators who as members of the highest decision making level of the Khmer Rouge regime had, along with others, been responsible for numerous atrocities commited in the name of Angkar. These judgments have come late – too late for many victims who have died in the meantime, but not too late for you who are assembled here today. It is hard for me to imagine what these judgments must mean to you personally. Each of you has had his or her own very special history and his or her own very personal way of dealing with what has happened back in these harsh years of the 1970s. But I know at least why this Special Court has been established: to prove to you, to prove to the world that crimes like the ones commited against you will not go unheaded, that there is a consequence to what people like Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphon have done, that what they have done will be made known and because it is documented will not be forgotten. The Court has shown you that there is justice after all, even though there had been no justice during the time when Angkar ruled . No society can in the long run exist peacefully if there is no sense of justice, if there is no rule of law, if there are people who feel they are above the law. This is a very relevant message, by no means limited to what has happened 40 years ago in Cambodia or 75 years ago in Germany.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Germany feels solidarity with Cambodia and other countries that have suffered crimes against humanity. This is why my country has assisted Cambodia in the area of victim support. Since its inception in 2008, Germany has, as the sole national donor, contributed a total of 5.2 million USD and has promised another half million this year to the VSS. We very much hope that other countries will join us and that the Royal Government of Cambodia will continue to support the reparations programme. One may even consider a foundation to aid the victims. The fate of the victims is a matter of public concern for which Cambodians themselves bear the primary responsibility. By raising public awareness of the victims’ suffering, a public debate about Cambodia’s civil war history will be provoked: a debate which will elicit that solidarity among Cambodian citizens, among victims and their families, a debate, I believe, which is so vital for the future of this country. Just as in Germany, where such a debate has been led beginning in the late 1960s, there will be pain, but out of that pain will come strength and a future for Cambodia free of the evil spirits which have haunted this country for so long.
Thank you for your attention.