A painting by Cambodian artist Asasax, entitled 'Defense' (2012). The photograph by Dr. Eng Kok-Thay is reprinted here with permission from Asasax.

In 2008, the Cambodian government generously donated a piece of land for the Sleuk Rith Institute. It is located beside a new public library and the law faculty of the Royal University of Law and Economics (RULE). It is also near the center of the capital city of Phnom Penh, easily accessible to local and international visitors.

We plan to break ground in 2014 and complete the project by 2016. We have engaged the world-renowned Zaha Hadid Architects, based in London, to design the Institute's campus. Students from Columbia University and Cambodia's University of Fine Arts (RUFA) have also contributed design research to our project. We envision a small campus with multiple interconnected buildings. The Institute's design will be based on explorations of Cambodian aesthetics and its surrounding environment. Outside of the buildings, we will erect a memorial to honor victims of the Cambodian tragedy. There will be an open space with a large garden and a small pond to create a peaceful environment for students and visitors, as well as a healing space for victims of torture and other abuses.




Located in Southeast Asia, Cambodia is a small country with a lengthy, rich and complex cultural heritage. In its early societies, which date to the first century AD, the indigenous people communicated in languages similar to present-day Khmer. The country's cultural legacy advanced under the administration of powerful monarchs who, over centuries, conceived and erected monumental iconic structures that continue to draw myriad international tourists, researchers and scholars. More recently, Cambodia's heritage was challenged when, in the late twentieth century, the Khmer Rouge regime ascended to power. Compelled by an irrational extremist ideology, the regime unleashed a horrific campaign of human rights crimes and abuses against tens of thousands of innocent Cambodian civilians. These atrocities decimated the population, specifically targeting the living intellectual and professional heritage of several generations.


In the years since its creation in 1995, the Documentation Center of Cambodia (DC-Cam) has been at the forefront of efforts to document the crimes against humanity and other abuses committed by the Khmer Rouge regime during its four-year reign of terror.

Stage One of that strategic effort entailed amassing, organizing and archiving documentary and other historical evidence into a vast inventory. That archive, largely complete, supports the research activity of diverse local, regional, and international professionals and aids the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), also known as the Khmer Rouge Tribunal, in its effort to bring to justice the regime’s senior leadership.

Stage Two was the development and preparation of teachers nationwide to disseminate a comprehensive genocide education curriculum; to date, a million high school students have received the instruction.

Stage Three of the strategic plan is the design and creation of a unique training, research, and public information institute to honor and perpetuate the memory of the victims and survivors. Once completed, this dynamic institute will serve as a permanent and proactive national and regional sentinel to monitor and constrain the conditions that spawn crimes against humanity and genocide.


The Sleuk Rith Institute will embrace cultural heritage as a tool for justice, remembrance, healing and reconciliation from the disastrous legacy of the Khmer Rouge regime. The primary components of the Institute will be a memorial Museum of Memory, an Academy of Genocide, Conflict and Human Rights Studies, and a Research and National Policy Development Center, each discussed in detail below.


The vision and mission of the Institute are manifold and intended to serve multiple constituencies.
• Strengthen and magnify DC-Cam’s original purpose of creating and providing broad access to its archive of documentary, photographic, and other evidence of the crimes against humanity perpetrated by the Khmer Rouge Regime
• Position the destructive legacy of the Khmer Rouge Regime in the much broader and richer context of Cambodia’s enduring cultural heritage
• Pursue a design and image that powerfully embrace remembrance, healing and restoration in the context of timeless Asian humanitarian values and design
• Construct a complex whose image, context and culture transition away from traditional genocide and war crimes memorial architecture
• Establish Asia’s pre-eminent center for comparative research, analysis and interpretation on genocide, conflict, and human rights with working space and library services to accommodate distinguished local and international scholars
• Build a prestigious post-graduate academy to prepare prospective government and civic leaders, building on international best practices and Cambodian history, politics and culture


DC-Cam resolved early in its planning that the Sleuk Rith Institute would redefine the traditional approach to the design of commemorative architecture. Pursuant to that resolution, DC-Cam partnered with Zaha Hadid Architects of London. The gracious but powerful architectural language of Dame Zaha Hadid defies much traditional structural design, often emphasizing the curvilinear over the conventional sharp and angular elements of modern architecture. Her portfolio features sweeping structures that shatter expectations by exalting and intensifying how they are experienced. With her firm as its partner, DC-Cam has the potential to redirect the dominant design approach of war crimes commemorative architecture in an entirely new, uplifting and more enriching direction.

In partnering with DC-Cam, Zaha Hadid has noted, “Youk Chhang's vision is inspirational. His brief for the Sleuk Rith Institute calls for beauty and an optimism for the future to heal and reconnect a country, with the Documentation Centre of Cambodia being key to that process. Working with Youk Chhang and the Institute, we have brought together an excellent team of Cambodian and international consultants that share this vision to carefully plan the Sleuk Rith Institute. Cambodia’s rich cultural heritage includes some of the world’s most exceptional temples that reflect the extraordinary architecture and technologies of their period. We look forward to working with Youk Chhang and his team to realize his vision in a contemporary building that remembers that heritage, but also reflects the unwavering belief and optimism for the future using education, understanding and inspiration to positively engage visitors.”


The unique design, exhibitions and programs of the Museum of Memory will appeal both to Cambodians and to visitors from the international community. Currently, the primary commemorative facility in Phnom Penh is the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, one of several primary sites where Khmer Rouge functionaries incarcerated, tortured, and terrorized their victims. The Museum of Memory will partner with Tuol Sleng but dramatically depart from its graphic and visceral character. The new Museum’s striking iconic design and content will convey an entirely different impression, one that focuses on building memory in the context of achieving healing and reconciliation. That impression will be conveyed through unique exhibitions and diverse programs embracing the performing arts, visual arts and musical performance. The resulting experiences will be enhanced by a Media Center equipped with cutting-edge electronic visual presentation technology.

The Museum of Memory will invoke history to create a memory of the Khmer Rouge, but will do so in the much lengthier context of Cambodia’s rich cultural, religious and architectural history, emphasizing integration and reconciliation. It will feature travelling exhibits drawn from the collections of international and regional museums. In collaboration with 24 museums dispersed throughout Cambodia, the Museum of Memory will curate local exhibitions to intensify the population’s exposure, awareness, and reconciliation on multiple levels of perception and understanding. In a direct link to Cambodia’s extensive history, the Museum of Memory will be aligned with efforts to develop, restore and preserve the long-neglected Tenth-Century Koh Ker temple and pyramid complex in Northern Cambodia.


From its beginning, DC-Cam’s mission has focused on the principle that “a society cannot know itself without an accurate memory of its history.” The new Academy of Genocide, Conflict and Human Rights will embrace this principle to prepare future generations of leaders to deploy energy, humanity and vision to shape Cambodia’s future. Exceptional students drawn from throughout Cambodia and recruited internationally will pursue post-graduate certificates in genocide, leadership, conflict and human rights studies.

The Academy’s dynamic and interactive curriculum will feature in-depth analyses of a broad historical range of systemic and institutionalized crimes against human beings and assess the adequacy and timeliness of the response, where applicable, to them. Such crimes will include mass atrocities, human rights violations, and ethnic and other categories of conflicts resulting in the organized destruction of human life. Curricular and instructional design efforts will be coordinated with similarly oriented institutions of learning and awareness on an international scale. The learning process will include engaging with surviving victims and visiting sites where crimes were facilitated and remains interred. The curriculum will analyze the various conditions under which such horrific criminal activities were conceived and implemented and how the international community might better have anticipated and intervened either to prevent them or to minimize their impact.

Students and scholars will have research access through the Academy Library to DC-Cam’s extensive and unparalleled digital archive. No comparable education institution with equivalent resources exists in the Southeast Asian region; DC-Cam thus anticipates that the new Academy will stimulate interest, inquiry and non-resident study-visits from throughout the region and internationally.


The new Research and National Policy Development Center will serve as a regional hub for research in the fields of crimes against humanity and sustainable development, building on DC-Cam’s tradition of hosting up to 100 research visitors annually with enhanced and expanded facilities. The Center will feature a Law Clinic where students will acquire robust practical advocacy skills from world-class researchers, scholars and practitioners. Drawing on DC-Cam’s vast original document and supplemental archives, scholars from a variety of pursuits will engage in diverse research projects designed to impact policy-making at the national, regional and international levels.

DC-Cam’s reputation in the field has already been established. In 2007, the International Association of Genocide Scholars recognized DC-Cam for excellence as the only such research center in Asia and encouraged it to expand its research agenda. DC-Cam aspires not only to be the leading research center on genocide, human rights and sustainable development in Southeast Asia, but to collaborate with officials in neighboring states to establish their own research and education facilities.

To disseminate publications generated by researchers, the Center will establish its own press facility to ensure integrity and control over its output. The press facility also will print DC-Cam’s innovative new bi-weekly newspaper, The Preah Vihear Times, a forum for promoting meaningful and in-depth analysis of fundamental and provocative issues that impact Cambodia and the ASEAN Region. The bilingual (English and Khmer) Times will serve as an independent and uncensored advocate for human rights, conflict prevention and freedom of information. Research Center publications also will be made available on-line to promote the broadest possible international access to them.


The Documentation Center will relocate to the Institute complex but retain its dynamic agenda of proactive projects that promote accountability and foster in-depth and comparative understanding of Cambodia and other sovereign states torn by internal civil conflict and tragedy. It also will continue to publish Searching for the Truth, radio programs, documentary films and the Cham Oral History Project. And it will maintain its proactive support network for the ECCC as it pursues the administration of justice, including supporting the pilgrimage of rural Cambodians to experience the tribunal in person while it remains in session.


With this undertaking to create the Sleuk Rith Institute, DC-Cam has embarked on a bold and ambitious project to promote human exposure to and understanding of crimes against humanity and their consequences. The project will preserve and broadly disseminate the history of the Khmer Rouge Regime and the legacy of the victims left in its wake. Building on such efforts, it will create a leadership development initiative to prepare future leaders in the Cambodian government and business communities well-versed in that history and legacy and determined to guard against any resurgence.

These worthy efforts require and deserve the sponsorship of concerned government leaders, philanthropic benefactors, heads of multi-national corporations and other supporters in the international community. To that end, DC-Cam is embarking on a $35 million capital fundraising campaign over the next 18 months to cover the expenses of design and construction of the component elements of the Institute. We invite your inquiries and your support.

Chy Terith