By Nick Ames
Iraqi-British architect to design the Sleuk Rith Institute in the centre of the capital Phnom Penh
Renowned architect Zaha Hadid’s latest project is a building to house the archive of documents about the Cambodian genocide of the 1970s, in which two million people lost their lives.
The Sleuk Rith Institute will also be home to a research institute, 35 years after the end of the Khmer Rouge’s brutal reign, in the centre of the capital, Phnom Penh.
The project is the vision of human-rights activist Youk Chhang, 53, who has amassed a vast archive detailing the atrocities of the regime from 1975 to 1979.
“We have to live with a long, dark shadow,” said Chhang, who lost his sister, as well as aunts and uncles, to Pol Pot’s reign of terror.
“We cannot escape it, but we shouldn’t be enslaved by it. I want the institute to bring something new and hopeful, and get us out of the mindset of being victims.”
The complex is planned to serve as a centre for genocide studies across Asia, with a strong educational and outreach component, and shares its site with a local high school – formerly home to a re-education camp.
The land has been donated by the Cambodian government and a $35 million fundraising campaign launched, with some funding already committed by USAID, sponsor of DC-Cam’s work to date.
Over the last two decades, Chhang and his team have compiled an archive of more than a million documents, photographs, tapes and films, as well as mapped 200 prisons and 20,000 mass graves across the country.
From reports describing conditions in the countryside, where a million died of starvation, to confessions under torture of thousands of prisoners killed by the secret police, the archive provided essential evidence during the trial of two former Khmer Rouge leaders, Khieu Samphan, 83, and Nuon Chea, 88, who were convicted of crimes against humanity in August this year.