‘Justice begins, ends with duty of memory’ – Magsaysay Awardee Youk Chhang

Youk Chhang

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‘Justice begins, ends with duty of memory’ – Magsaysay Awardee Youk Chhang

Inoue Jaena

Youk Chhang, recognized for his work in documenting Khmer Rouge atrocities in Cambodia, says remembering the mistakes of the past is 'the pathway to justice'

The 6 recipients of the prestigious 2018 Ramon Magsaysay Awards were officially recognized during the presentation ceremonies at the Cultural Center of the Philippines on Friday, August 31.

Among the awardees is Cambodia’s Youk Chhang. He was recognized for his work in documenting Khmer Rouge atrocities to attain justice for victims, preserve the country’s history, and achieve collective healing.

Here is the full text of his speech, as provided by the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation.

(Read also: ‘To forget is a crime’: Genocide survivor helps heal Cambodia’s wounds)


Salamat po. I am humbled by this most prestigious award. In receiving it, I am reminded of a thought I often have as a survivor: If you have survived genocide, you are blessed in many ways. You can begin again. You find a place to live, get a job, make friends, and start a family. But physical survival is the easy part. You can also be unlucky in just as many ways. Genocide breaks you. Your heart aches from losing the people you loved. You are haunted by your memories. You feel guilt at merely surviving when so many died. And worst of all, you can lose hope.

I am reminded every day by survivors and the people who advocate on their behalf, to not lose hope. l take heart in the relentless strength of survivors and the heroic, kindhearted people who help them. This award is a reminder, on behalf of my mother and all mothers in Cambodia who have survived the genocide, of the kindness of the Filipinos. The Filipinos opened their country to Cambodian refugees in the wake of the Khmer Rouge regime’s collapse in the 1980s. The Philippine government and people, along with other countries including the United States, rose to the occasion in helping us. In receiving this award, I want to take the opportunity to thank the Philippines for their kindness back then. Your help to the Cambodian people was a shining example to not give up hope.

I also want to say that it is important to remember the mistakes of the past. We must remember mistakes as a decisive act at all levels of society, from individuals to communities and governments. Remembering mistakes is not easy because it requires us to consciously accept additional pain in the present so that our children will not relive our mistakes in the future. But this is the pathway to justice. Justice will always begin and end with the duty of memory.

Again, salamat po, mula sa kaibuturan ng aking puso. – Rappler.com

Read the speeches of other 2018 Ramon Magsaysay Awards recipients:

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