June 4, 2008

At Cambodian New Year, Whitehouse, Reed Introduce Resolution Honoring “Killing Fields” Survivor Dith Pran

Washington, D.C. – As Rhode Island’s Cambodian community celebrates Cambodian New Year, U.S. Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Jack Reed (D-RI) today introduced a Senate resolution honoring Dith Pran, one of the most dedicated and outspoken advocates for human rights in Cambodia. Pran was the photojournalist whose heroism during the genocide perpetrated by the Khmer Rouge regime was documented in the Academy Award-winning 1984 film “The Killing Fields.” He passed away on March 30th after a battle with cancer.

“Dith Pran was a witness to, and a fierce critic of, the greatest atrocities men have inflicted upon their fellow men,” Whitehouse said. “His willingness to share his story brought light to dark places, and hope to millions.”

“Dith Pran devoted his life to exposing the horrors he experienced during the Cambodian genocide,” said Reed. “He gave a voice to the 2 million men, women, and children who were killed by the Khmer Rouge. By sharing their stories and his own experiences, Mr. Dith’s work as an advocate for human rights will continue to have an impact for generations to come.”

As many fled Cambodia during the fall of Phnom Penh to the Khmer Rouge in 1975, Dith Pran sent his wife and children to safety abroad but stayed behind with investigative journalist Sydney H. Schanberg to help ensure that news of the events there reached the outside world. Captured by the Khmer Rouge, he endured forced labor and beatings for four years until his escape in 1979. He coined the term “the killing fields” to describe the mass graveyards he witnessed during his 40-mile journey across the Cambodian border to a refugee camp in Thailand.

After reaching the United States in 1980, Dith Pran became a photojournalist for the New York Times. He founded the Dith Pran Holocaust Awareness Project to educate individuals around the world of the horrors he survived, and was appointed a United Nations Goodwill Ambassador by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in 1985. He was awarded the Ellis Island Medal of Honor in 1998, and also received the Award of Excellence from The International Center in New York.

The resolution states that: “(1) Dith Pran is a modern day hero and an exemplar of what it means to be a citizen of the United States and a citizen of the world; (2) the United States owes a debt of gratitude to Dith Pran for his tireless work to prevent genocide and violations of fundamental human rights; and (3) teachers throughout the United States should spread Dith Pran’s message by educating their students about his life, the genocide in Cambodia, and the collective responsibility of all people to prevent modern-day atrocities and human rights abuses.” Senator Joe Biden (D-DE), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) also cosponsored the resolution.

Cambodian New Year celebrations, which mark the end of the harvest season, were held in Providence and Cranston last weekend; Whitehouse will attend an event in Cranston this Saturday.

A copy of the resolution is attached.


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