Tuol Sleng Museum applies for registration with Unesco intrigued the question that this initiative will bring shame or pride to Cambodian people? If we check in the listing numbers of world cultural heritages subscribed by Unesco, we seem not see any genocidal or brutal place being put as World Heritage. But if Cambodia can achieve her purpose to register Tuol Sleng Museum with Unesco, it would be possibly questionable to the intent of this orientation.
Conceivably, many foreign visitors have always laid their expectation when they visit Cambodia: to experience the well-known greatness of Angkor Wat and the horrible notorious legacy of Khmer Rouge. Weighting these two expectations rationally reflect the pride and shame of Cambodia. The reputation of Angkor Wat highly honors the Cambodian people in the past, present and future. But the legacy of Khmer Rouge and Tuol Sleng prisoners’ camp ambiguously construes Cambodian people.
There are many potential sites in Cambodia to list in Unesco’s special protection and we are proud of them such as Angkor Wat and Preah Vihear. And we should consider applying Cardamon Mountain to be registered by Unesco as the special rare forest urgently needed protection. There are rich of wild lives, rare plants, and eco-biodiversity. In the future, the reservation of this mountain hugely benefits Cambodian people and their nation. It sustains the eco-system, climate changes, and can attract millions of dollar through eco-tourism. Beside this rich natural resource, we should consider applying Tonle Sap lake to be listed by Unesco. This fresh water lake is well-known for its landscape, marine lives, eco-biodiversity, fresh water fish, and other rare species.
Considering notorious Tuol Sleng punishment camp to register in Unesco’s list is likely unimportant. It might not necessary to call for protection or to intensify its brutality to the world. Regarding to to educate Cambodian younger generations from this registration as it is claimed, it is surely not logical. Cambodian younger generations should learn to forgive in the intent of achieving greater national reconciliation. This forgiveness bases on legal framework that every perpetrator must be fairly trialed. Impunity must be eliminated. The ongoing KR trial and history books at their schools should be sufficient for them to learn. It is surely not productive education to have Cambodian children encountered with scary skeletons and explicit brutal tortures by their own nationals. Regarding to income generation from this site, it is extremely being avoided if we can avoid. We should not earn a living by selling the suffering and bitterness of our own citizens particularly our ancestors. Cambodian people are humane and grateful to their ancestors. This culture should be attentively maintained.
The intent of registering Tuol Sleng in Unesco’s list is considerably the shame of Cambodian people rather than the pride. Importantly, this registration effort might be easily interpreted as politically oriented.
By Sophan Seng