For human rights activist, Theary C. Seng, education and reconciliation with the past are integral to building democracy in Cambodia. Seng will speak at the Deutsche Welle Global Media Forum on June 27 in Bonn, Germany.
"Cambodia is a democracy," said writer and lawyer Theary Seng in an interview with Deutsche Welle, "but a very immature one". The country's political leaders are "very reluctant in putting democratic ideals and principles into practice," which she said is "extremely frustrating and destructive" for the population.
Seng was born in Phnom Penh, probably in 1971. During Pol Pot's rule she lived near the border to Vietnam, where the Khmer Rouge regime raged especially rampantly. Both her parents were killed and as a child she spent five months in prison. With surviving members of her family, she emigrated to the United States in 1980. Seng founded the Cambodian Center for Justice & Reconciliation and is the founding president of CIVICUS – Center for Cambodian Civic Education.
"The people of Cambodia need democracy like they need fresh air to breathe," said Seng. But their hopes are being dashed by the "power and violenceof the leaders". People also "lack opportunities to get education and jobs, which are key to promoting the growth of democracy". In Seng's words, "Cambodia is a democratic embryo fighting to survive so that at some point it can lead a self-determined life".
Seng said the Khmer Rouge tribunal has "turned criminal proceedings into fraudulent political theater and rewritten history to serve the powerful interests of individuals, the government party and certain regional and international forces".
A culture of remembrance and education towards democracy are "extremely important to re-build a society that is greatly shocked in every way". Civic involvement and education make that possible, says the human rights lawyer. They are "two basic necessities in a place like Cambodia".
At the Deutsche Welle Global Media Forum in Bonn, Germany, Theary Seng will take part in a plenary session on "The Fight for Knowledge - Opportunities and Risks of Educational Work in Conflict and Crisis Zones". The theme of this year's international conference is "Culture. Education. Media. Shaping a Sustainable World".
2012 Deutsche Welle Global Media Forum
The 2012 Deutsche Welle Global Media Forum takes place under the patronage of the German Commission for UNESCO. The conference is co-hosted by the Foundation for International Dialogue of the Sparkasse (municipal savings bank) in Bonn and also supported by the Federal Foreign Office of Germany, the European Regional Development Fund, the Minister of Federal Affairs, Europe and the Media for the State of North-Rhine Westphalia, the City of Bonn, DHL, the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and the Fritz Thyssen Foundation.