Many young Cambodians have very little knowledge about the horrors and atrocities of the Khmer Rouge (KR) regime. In order to not let people forget, the Bophana Center developed a multimedia app that provides free access to these historical events. This could help to end the silence about this regime in Cambodian society.
This article is part of our special on Digital Asia.
The Khmer Rouge took power on April 17, 1975, which was day one of their regime, which lasted 3 years, 8 months, and 20 days. During this time, the Khmer Rouge forced people to work extremely hard, provided little food, and offered no proper medical treatment in addition to confining people within specific areas.
There were extralegal executions of civilians, soldiers, cadres, and party members who were accused of being enemies of Angkar. “Sweep Clean” was the term that the Khmer Rouge used to eliminate what they called “enemies burrowing from inside.” After the fall of the Khmer Rouge on January 7, 1979, it was estimated that 1.7 million people had perished.
In recent years, international, governmental, and nongovernmental institutions have been working to raise awareness, heal the trauma of survivors, and prevent any such event from recurring ever again. However, raising the awareness of young Cambodians about this period has been a great challenge.
In Cambodia, about 70 percent of the total population is under 30 years old and does not know much about what happened under the Khmer Rouge regime. Thus, encouraging them to learn about Khmer Rouge history – facilitated by relevant and engaging tools in their search for the truth – is crucial for a social transformation of Cambodia.
In order to respond to the fast pace of technology and to reach more youth in Cambodia, the Bophana Center successfully developed an internet-based application to teach Khmer Rouge history through smart devices. “App-learning on Khmer Rouge History” (KR-App) is the title of a project that produces multimedia applications such as written articles, films, photos and audios, artworks, and interactive elements. Between late July and the end of September 2017, the app was downloaded more than 2,000 times on Android and iOS platforms.
With its aim to reach young adults, the Bophana Center signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports to endorse the KR-App as a supplementary tool for students to learn history. The project is also a proposed reparation project of ECCC Case 002/02, under the “guarantee of non-repetition” measure. The project is funded by the European Union (via UNOPS) and The Rei Foundation Limited.
Advantages of the KR-App
The main advantages of the KR-App are its innovative multimedia, validated and standardized information, and user-friendly learning tools.
The contents of the KR-App are carefully developed through academic and scientific research. The valid sources for each article include legal documentation from the Khmer Rouge Tribunal – or Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) – archival documents from different institutions, witness interviews, survivors’ memoirs, academic books and articles, and other sources.
The citations for each source are also included in the articles. Additionally, in order to ensure the quality and authenticity of the articles, a Scientific Committee was formed. The eight Scientific Committee members are Cambodian academics and experts in Khmer Rouge history from the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports, the ECCC, the History Department at the Royal University of Phnom Penh, the Documentation Center of Cambodia, and the Center for Khmer Studies.
At least once a month, the Scientific Committee members meet with a project team (lead writer, project manager, IT team, interface designer) to approve the written content and interface design. New content developed by the writers is introduced and debated, improved, and/or corrected through consensus or compromise. Moreover, writing teams regularly consult with each committee member before and after the meetings.
Therefore, the articles in the KR-App have been checked and approved by Khmer Rouge experts, giving each article academic and standardized validation. Based on interviews with randomly selected students who attended a presentation at the Royal University of Phnom Penh, each person gave positive feedback.
They were especially enthusiastic regarding reading texts and watching/listening to audiovisual presentations. Many students said that using the app inspired conversations with their parents. The main reason for talking to their parents and relatives was to compare the content of the app to the experiences their parents and relatives had during that time.
Multimedia and interactive tools
The KR-App offers a wider platform that includes multimedia and interactive tools for users in addition to written articles. Sixty-five short documentary films and videos of witnesses’ testimonies are included, along with around 1,300 photos, 15 audio files, and numerous artworks.
Within each lesson, the application normally consists of videos (testimony or documentary), photos, audio files, which help users to visualize and understand the history of the Democratic Kampuchea – the state controlled by the Khmer Rouge. For some images that cannot be found in archives, the project employed artists and filmmakers to draw, sculpt, photograph, and film objects and images to enhance the text-based content of the application.
On average, Cambodians read less than one book a year. Encouraging them to read history is very challenging. At the same time, according to Internet World Stats in March 2017, one-quarter of the Cambodian population accesses the internet, and the majority of them are young people under 30, who spend much time using their smart devices. Thus, learning history through the KR-App is an applicable tool that fits the needs of young people.
The written texts, videos, photos, and audio files are also specially designed to fit the target audience of high school students and first-year university students. The KR-App aims to deliver history directly to the young generation, and thereby reinforce the national education curriculum for high school and first-year university students.
Young smartphone users can easily access articles, films, photos, audio files, artworks, and interactive elements to learn about the horrors committed during the Khmer Rouge regime. A subject that was rarely talked about and hushed up at home has now become an open source of information for everybody. Cambodians now have the opportunity to engage more deeply with their own history by using mobile technology.
Based on the cooperation between the Bophana Center and the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports, the KR-App was created as a supplementary tool to support the national education curriculums of high schools and universities in Cambodia and allows students to engage more deeply with history. At the start of the new school term in 2017, 100 high school history teachers were invited to attend the training workshop about how to use the app in class. The outreach team met with around 30,000 students along with the trained teachers.
Dealing with Cambodia’s past, contributing to the future
The development of the KR-App plays a significant role in sharing knowledge about the Khmer Rouge history with young people and fostering inter-generational dialogue. When young people understand what happened with the Khmer Rouge and why, they will have sufficient knowledge to help prevent atrocities from happening again in the future.
After completing the development of the KR-App, the next plan is to bring the application to the public, especially young people. The outreach teams will tour schools in different provinces to let students know about the application and that they can install it and learn history by themselves. The application consists of eight comprehensive chapters, starting with the historical background of the communist movement in Cambodia, Cambodia under the rule of the Khmer Rouge, and its aftermath.
After using the KR-App, young people are expected to explore more personal stories from their parents or relatives who had experienced the Khmer Rouge. This will contribute to more intergenerational dialogue in Cambodian families. Learning about this tragic history and listening to interviewees’ testimonies in the KR-App will encourage young users to find out about more stories from the survivors within their own families. Thus, the app has the power to break the silence and create more opportunities toward intergenerational dialogue.
The innovative multimedia application consists of accurate and standardized information validated by Cambodian and international experts. It has the potential to raise awareness about justice, human rights, and peace, and to foster intergenerational dialogue. Young users are the KR-App’s main audience and are the country’s future leaders.
The KR-App also plays a role in healing survivors’ suffering, as many people have shared their personal stories. With young generations recognizing what happened during the Khmer Rouge, survivors’ psychological suffering can be healed. Forty witness testimonies were produced and added to the app after the team talked to nearly 100 survivors.
Among those witnesses, there are several from the Civil Parties of the ECCC. Those Civil Parties members could benefit from the KR-App by participating in the development of the content and contributing their stories to a multimedia source.
The KR-App provides an innovative multimedia learning tool with accurate and standardized content, thereby contributing toward sharing broader knowledge about Khmer Rouge history, fostering intergenerational dialogue, and guaranteeing that history will not repeat itself. Users can now install the KR-App from both the Play Store (Android system) and App Store (iOS system) by searching for “Khmer Rouge history.”
This article is part of our special on Digital Asia.
 The imprecise term “Angkar” (The Organization) allowed the Communist Party of Kampuchea to keep information secret about its members, existence, and history.
 David Chandler, History of Cambodia, 4th ed. (Chiang Mai: Silkworm Books, 2008).
 According to reports from the Documentation Center of Cambodia, students receive little knowledge about Khmer Rouge history and, even after training workshops, they hardly understand why it happened. Please see: Stephen Wu and Steven Chang, Genocide Education in Cambodia Teaching of the History of Democratic Kampuchea (1975-1979); Report Classroom Forum at Bak Touk High School on July 8, 2016 (Phnom Penh: Sleuk Rith Institute, 2016); Ly Sok-Kheang and Dy Khamboly, Genocide Education in Cambodia, Quality Control on the Teaching of “A History of Democratic Kampuchea (1975-1979)”; Report from Kratie and Mondul Kiri province, June 6-13, 2012 (Phnom Penh: Documentation Center of Cambodia, 2012).
 Cited by Phnom Penh Post, UNESCO claimed that nearly four-fifths of Cambodian adults still lack any reading habit. Room to Read also reported that Cambodians read only 1.5 books per year.