ASEAN: AICHR Peace & Human Rights Education

Promote a culture of diversity, peace, and a respect for human rights through professional development of Cambodian women teachers and members of marginalized communities

Regionalization is a significant factor in U.S. foreign policy in Southeast Asia as it presents as many opportunities as risks. The People’s Republic of China (PRC) has always played a significant role in Southeast Asian politics and development. However, in recent years, it has assumed an increasingly more aggressive approach in the region, and the increase in cross-border exchange and integration has become a new factor in PRC strategies. The U.S. stands to lose opportunities for improvement and growth in the region in nearly all fields of foreign policy, from market position to socio-political influence, should it overlook or underestimate the PRC’s elevated posture and leverage in the Southeast Asian region.

To this end, as regionalization increases, there will be increasing opportunities for the PRC to influence ASEAN member states as well as Cambodia. To a large extent, with the Cambodian elite’s alliance with the PRC, Cambodia is becoming increasingly important to the PRC as a strategic gateway to manipulating ASEAN member states. On the other hand, regionalization can also present strategic opportunities for facilitating U.S. foreign policy in the region.

As Cambodian institutions coordinate and integrate with ASEAN member institutions, there will be opportunities for increased dialogue between Cambodian and ASEAN institutions on issues that the Governments would not have entertained, let alone encouraged. This proposal includes the development of a Peace and Human Rights Education Program drawn from other countries in ASEAN. The program would be developed under the auspices of the Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) for grassroots education in Cambodia and Cambodian student teacher training centers. Apart from the diplomatic efforts necessary to facilitate the project’s completion, we will initiate the project with a public commitment to AICHR’s core treaty obligations.


Expert Meeting
Atrocity Prevention through Education
in South and Southeast Asia
18 May 2021
8:00-10:30am EST


CAMBODIA — The preamble to the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide states that “genocide is a crime under international law,” yet, since the Genocide Convention was ratified in 1949, how many genocides have occurred?  And how many of these genocides have been prosecuted under national or international law?  Since 1949, only three genocides (Cambodia, Bosnia, and Rwanda) have been prosecuted in an international court.

Cambodia lost approximately two million lives in less than four years.  It has been over fourty years since the collapse of the Khmer Rouge and 5 million survivors are still alive today.  I am one of them.  Most survivors continue to struggle with the horrors they witnessed or suffered, and the effects of the period resonate in their lives, not only in the form of mental trauma, but also health conditions and injuries that persist with little public recognition, let alone actual support in services and care.

The Documentation Center of Cambodia (DC-Cam) has established itself as not only the world’s largest repository for records about the Khmer Rouge regime, but also a key contributor to genocide education in Cambodia.  We have also been working with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) on this topic.  Our work continues to proceed incrementally, but steadily, forward because ASEAN, though one community, continues to co-exist with invisible, but still very sensitive, lines.

DC-Cam sees documentation and genocide education as crucial components to preventing and addressing the effects of genocide; however, this is just one dimension of our overall effort.  In 2021, DC-Cam will be expanding its work with survivors to include support to their medical care and well-being.  DC-Cam will be implementing activities directly aimed at improving their health, welfare, and well-being, as well as field research and outreach activities that raise public awareness of the struggles of survivors.  The nation-wide project represents a great step forward in not only calling attention to and actually addressing the great gap in services and support for the health, welfare, and well-being of survivors of genocide, but also transforming the concept of transitional justice into restorative justice.

Restorative justice depends upon leveraging pre-existing entry points and approaches as much as creating new ones that are based on a contemporary, evolving society.  One guiding question asked for a response to the main entry points for promoting atrocity prevention, and my response would be that grassroots as well national-level stakeholders and institutions are equally important to achieving any impactful change.  Another guiding question asked to identify the education tools that have been most useful for education related to atrocity prevention, and I reiterate that impactful change depends as much on leveraging well-known and accepted approaches to learning as much as introducing new ones.  DC-Cam has implemented a marriage of traditional as well as contemporary forms of learning and education in order to achieve a combination of the old and new.  In this way, education both partially reaffirms a person’s prior knowledge and experience, as much as it transforms what they know and think about the world.  I close by stating that transitional justice can only be justice if it is truly founded upon a credible and impactful effort aimed at restoring as much as transforming the society and each individual person.

Youk Chhang
Documentation Center of Cambodia