Prime Minister Hun Sen called on people to join together in maintaining peace in order to prevent genocide from reoccurring as part of his message on this year’s National Day of Remembrance.

He said the National Day of Remembrance is to make sure that Cambodian’s never forget the crimes of the brutal Democratic Kampuchea regime led by Pol Pot – also known as the Khmer Rouge – which lasted from April 17, 1975 to January 6, 1979.

Hun Sen said the day was also to remember the more than 3 million victims who lost their lives during the Pol Pot era.

“The vast majority of Cambodians know and understand the bitter tragedy that the Cambodian people had been through after nearly three decades spent in the flames of war, suffering through wanton killing and being forced to evacuate their homes and work like animals,” he said.

Hun Sen said that many Cambodians died due to a lack of medical treatment and starvation.

Similar remarks were made by National Assembly President Heng Samrin, who said Cambodians must not forget the Pol Pot regime’s reign of terror in Cambodia that lasted for three years, eight months and 20 days.

He said that on May 20, 1973, the Khmer Rouge openly declared their insane policies, including the complete evacuation of the cities, the elimination of the free market economy, the abolition of currency, the abolition of religion and the establishment of cooperative farms across the country.

“The policy of the black-shirt regime was to massacre innocent people, forcing people to work endlessly and torturing away all rights and freedoms,” Samrin stated.

From the day they came to power on April 17, 1975, to January 7, 1979, there was nothing but bitter tragedy. It was a dark time when Cambodians were swimming in a sea of tears without rest, Samrin said.

“Without January 7, 1979, we would not be alive today in order to build our peaceful and prosperous nation,” he stated, referring to Vietnam’s invasion of Cambodia and toppling of the Khmer Rouge regime.

US ambassador to Cambodia Patrick Murphy commemorated the event in a tweet on May 20.

“On the National Day of Remembrance, we join the Cambodian people in mourning the millions of victims of genocide, torture, enslavement, and other crimes against humanity at the hands of the Khmer Rouge,” he said.

In February of 2018, Prime Minister Hun Sen issued a sub-decree designating May 20 as the “National Day of Remembrance to honour and pay tribute to the victims of the regime.”

“We must remember that 5 million survivors are still alive today,” said Youk Chhang, director of the documentation centre of Cambodia.

“Most survivors continue to struggle with the horrors they witnessed or suffered and the effects of the period resonate in their lives – not only in the form of mental trauma – but also with health conditions and injuries that persist with little public recognition, let alone actual support in services and care,” Chhang said.

Cambodian Institute for Democracy president Pa Chanroeun said that a peaceful society requires more than just the absence of war or conflict and that people also need justice, rights, freedoms and democracy as a foundation for society.