Speech of the German Ambassador Joachim Baron von Marschall

Speech of the German Ambassador Joachim Baron von Marschall, held on the occasion of the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between the Ministry of Culture of the Royal Government of Cambodia and the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia on 10 July 2014 at the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum

Your Excellency Chuch Poeurn,

Your Excellency Kranh Tony

Excellencies,

Mr. Hang Vannak,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

I would like to thank the organisers of this signing ceremony for inviting me to participate today. This event demonstrates the importance which we, the governments of Germany and Cambodia, attribute to remembering the atrocities committed at this place – a place designed for the admirable purpose of teaching young people but then transformed into a slaughterhouse. Almost 40 years have passed since unimaginable pain and suffering was inflicted on thousands of human beings at this place. But Tuol Sleng still resonates with the horror of those 3 years, 8 months and 20 days between 1975 and 1979. Many inhabitants of Cambodia remarkably survived the terrible years of the Pol Pot regime. They still feel the pain of their loss. They lost loved ones, family members whose photographs they may have found in Tuol Sleng. Such images speak of horror, fear, resignation, the vision of imminent death. When I see these desperate souls I want to step up and embrace them in their unspeakable solitude. But then there was no one to give them this last comfort before they perished, victims of a system for which a human being was no more than a number in a monstrous human experiment.

Ladies and gentlemen,

It is a sad truth that the events we remember here today are not unique. Crimes against humanity and genocides have happened regularly in human history. My country has, as you all know, its own story to tell. I have visited former concentration camps in Germany and experienced similar feelings of horror to those which I feel here today. I have seen pictures of camp victims which are not dissimilar to those here also exhibiting expressions of hopelessness or disbelief. Why is it that human beings inflict such pain on each other? What happens in the minds of people who design such inhuman systems? What has silenced their inner voice? These are difficult questions to which answers must be found in order to prevent the repetition of such human tragedies. We must never stop searching for these answers. We must keep remembering and communicating our remembrances to stop history from repeating itself.

We Germans have come to understand this. When the War ended the eyes of all those who had survived the Holocaust and the destruction caused by the War were opened and we saw the havoc wreaked by a murderous regime. And we learned with the help of the Allied powers that we had to face unpleasant realities. We had to face the fact that we Germans were not just formidable philosophers, brilliant engineers and highly talented artists, but that there also was a very dark side which nobody in the country had been able to neutralise, even though some brave German resistance fighters had tried and paid with their lives. Germans then and now must confront a difficult past history. Nobody can magic it away. And even though, today, there remain only relatively few people alive who were implicated in crimes against humanity, we Germans have a collective responsibility to preserve and share the knowledge of these horrors across the generations and across continents to help secure a better future for the sake of a better future.

Ladies and gentlemen

It is in this spirit of a shared past and a shared future that Germany engages in the work of the Khmer Rouge Tribunal and as well as the Victims Support Section. The two belong together. And both the court and the victims (the latter through the reparations programme) continue to have Germany’s financial support. Germany supports the Reparations Programme 2013-17 because we recognise that it  is an important cornerstone of the Tribunal’s meaningful activities to compensate the victims of the Khmer Rouge regime and to support the Cambodian people in dealing with their traumatic recent past.

The stupa will be re-built here at Tuol Sleng as one element of the reparations programme. It will be a symbolic representation of reparation for the victims of and witnesses to the Khmer Rouge regime. It will also act as a reminder for future generations of what happened during that time. Furthermore, it will provide a focal point for those survivors who have suffered loss to commemorate their dead and come to terms with their own pain and suffering. The names of those who suffered will be a permanent reminder that the genocide was not an abstract phenomenon but a human reality experienced by each and every victim individually.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Let me close by expressing my heartfelt wish that the souls of all who perished have come to rest, that all those who grieve can eventually find solace and that those who have been responsible for the human atrocities committed during the Pol Pot regime will find the courage to admit their wrongdoing and ask for forgiveness. And lastly I would like to express my sincere hope that the Royal Government of Cambodia will demonstrate its own primary and crucial role vis-á-vis the victims by its continued and substantial contribution to the reparations programme.

Thank you.