The Words of the Kittel Family
This year marked the 30th anniversary of the overthrow of the Pol Pot dictatorship that brutally slaughtered as many as two million Cambodians -- one third of the population. In March, the trial began in Phnom Penh, the capital, for “Duch,” the former prison chief of the notorious Toul Sleng prison.
Human rights activists called for justice through prosecution, while Prime Minister Hun Sen asked for reconciliation and healing. Against this background the Universal Peace Federation held a Global Peace Tour, March 30-31, under the banner, “A New Paradigm for Peace in the 21st Century.”
The theme struck a somber chord with Cambodians of all ages and had special meaning for UPF organizers too. Toul Sleng prison was originally a high school but renamed by the Khmer Rouge, “S-21.” As many as 30,000 people including women and children were killed here over a three-and-a-half-year period.
At the Toul Sleng Genocide Museum, the devices used to torture men, women, and children were on display. The purpose was to remind Cambodians and the world of the unimaginable cruelty and inhumanity of the communist regime.
One particularly cruel method of torture was to tie a person’s hands behind his back and then with another rope lift him off the ground so that the weight of his body pulled his arms backwards. The pain would cause the prisoner to pass out. Guards would then put the prisoner’s head in a mixture of sewer water and fertilizer to revive him and continue interrogation. This was called “the gallows” in Cambodia.
In North Korea the same technique was called “the airplane,” and it was used on Father Moon, the founder of the Universal Peace Federation, in Pyongyang nearly 60 years ago. He was arrested, imprisoned, and tortured several times for teaching religion in a communist state.
With a common heritage of suffering shared between the Cambodian people and Koreans, more than 850 people listened with rapt attention as the basic principles of peace and good governance were discussed, especially the concept of loving one's enemy. The audience at the Chak Tomuk Hall and Sunway Hotel included government ministers, secretaries of state, a senator, members of Parliament, NGO leaders, legal experts, Buddhist monks, academics, and students.
The Minister of Cults and Religion, H.E. Min Khin, spoke on behalf of Prime Minister Hun Sen and set the tone of the two-day conference. He explained, “As long as there is peace, we can achieve anything. So [first] we need to have peace.” He said the government was fully aware of the good work of UPF and thanked the peace federation for its numerous peace initiatives.
In a separate meeting in the evening, the Hon. Khin wholeheartedly welcomed the idea of the Global Peace Festival planned for next year in Cambodia.
At the end of the first day, Kong Sokleng, Executive Director of the Student Monks Association, was asked what idea most appealed to him. He smiled and replied immediately, “This idea that we are one family under God.” Although 95 percent of Cambodians are Buddhists, there is freedom of religion unparalleled in many other countries today. Even discussions of the concept of God do not create antagonistic feelings as they have in some other Buddhist countries.
On the second day H.E. Ton Sa Im, Undersecretary of State of the Ministry of Education, was the chief guest. She noted with special interest that, “the highest values of human beings are spiritual and moral in nature and, therefore, must serve as the basic foundation of leadership and good governance.”
Lectures on Leadership and Good Governance were given by two Cambodian Ambassadors for Peace. H.E. Ung Malyvann, Adviser to the Office of the Council of Ministers and a member of the Cambodian Peace Council, spoke on the “Spiritual Values as a Foundation for Leadership.”
Over the course of two days, 120 peace awards were given to community leaders and students, including Ambassador for Peace certificates to both the Minister of Cults and Religion and to the Under Secretary of State for Education.
H. E. Kong Uok, Director of the Department of NGOs, Social Affairs, and Human Rights Affairs, explained “The Role of Ambassadors for Peace.”
At the end of the program Dr. Lek Thaveetermasul, Vice-Regional Chair of UPF-Asia, delivered the Keynote Speech on behalf of Dr. Hyun Jin Moon, chairman of the Global Peace Festival. He was impressed by the attentiveness of the audience, even though English was their second or even third language, and there was no translator for his speech. He noted, “Cambodians are very concerned about peace. It seems their suffering has made them more serious.”