Documenting records of abuse to promote healing and justice

The Documentation Center of Cambodia (DC-Cam) collects records of the victims and perpetrators of the geno­cide in Cambodia so that families and friends can learn the precise fate of the disappeared. At the same time, DC-Cam gathered possible legal evidence to be used against former Khmer Rouge leaders in a court of law. [Update: In 2014, two Khmer Rouge leaders, Nuon Chea and Kheiu Samphan, were jailed for life by a UN-backed court, which found them guilty of crimes against humanity and responsible for the deaths of up to 2 million Cambodians (Khmer), nearly a quarter of the country's then population, during the era between 1975–1979.] 

DC-Cam’s Family Tracing File System helps families of both victims and perpetrators discover the fate of their loved ones by searching detailed records kept by the Khmer Rouge regime (1975–1979). DC-Cam has four da­tabases that catalogue hundreds of thousands of pages of relevant documents, photographs and interviews. Its mapping project has used GPS technology to identify 19,466 mass graves, 168 prisons and 77 genocide memori­als in 170 districts of Cambodia and nearly all of the country’s provinces.

Although most often finding that relatives were executed by the Khmer Rouge, families can still find closure and relief in knowing exactly what happened, and the community can begin to heal from the trauma of the genocide. Records occasionally reveal the location of the missing’s remains, allowing a family to perform the proper rites for the victim’s spirit. An estimated 80 percent of families that come to the center inquiring about loved ones leave with answers as to what happened.

DC-Cam’s ultimate goal is to keep the memory of the genocide alive, help the people of Cambodia seek jus­tice and build a strong future, and prevent such atrocities from ever happening again.

New Tactics in Human Rights does not advocate for or endorse specific tactics, policies or issues.

What we can learn from this tactic: 

A group in Cambodia has documented abuses from the Khmer Rouge genocide and made the records of abuse accessible to the public, preserving the memory of both those affected by the genocide and those who commit­ted the abuses.

DC-Cam’s tactic has been very effective in Cambodia, where the population has suffered grave, long-term abuses. Other countries emerging from long periods of abuse could benefit from the group’s experience. To create a central repository of information, a group must find how or whether the perpetrators left any documentation or evidence behind and may need to conduct exhumations and forensic work. In Cambodia, the genocide targeted the educated class and destroyed the justice system, meaning that the information could only be put to use when the system was rebuilt.