No matter how much I learnt about Cambodia, I was still terrified.

said Nic Dunlop, an Irish photojournalist, in a ‘Writer's’ Fortnight’ speaker session at East Campus. ‘Writer’s Fortnight’ is a speaker series that hosts different individuals with life-changing experiences and including one of them was Nic Dunlop, a photographer who successfully found and interviewed a ex-Khmer Rouge commander who was in hiding. At the session, we, Grade 9 students, listened to Dunlop’s past experiences and thoughts while he answered various questions from the audience.

Grade 9 students were busy listening to Nic Dunlop at the "Writers' Fortnight" event at East Campus

Captivated and horrified by the Cambodian carnage at the age of ten, a simple question formed inside young Dunlop’s mind:


Motivated by curiosity, he flew to Cambodia to discover more about Cambodia and its downfall during the Khmer Rouge era.

Khmer Rouge soldiers driving into Phnom Penh, April 1975

One of Dunlop’s greatest achievements as a photojournalist was to find out the truth behind a torture facility called S-21 in the Khmer Rouge genocide and its chief commander allegedly named Comrade Duch. More than 14,000 men, women, and children were brutally and immorally murdered in this facility by Duch’s direct orders. But, when the glory of Khmer Rouge ended with the invasion of the Vietnamese army, the commander disappeared mysteriously into the chaotic air of Cambodia. Nobody knew his personality or his real name (Comrade Duch was a codename) even after 20 years since the genocide.

The pictures of the S-21 victims before they were abused and killed

However, Dunlop’s work shed a light to the truth behind the lost executioner by discovering his whereabouts and interviewing him. It took Dunlop multiple visits and 9 years of searching and questioning till he found Duch living in a jungle.

Dunlop explains that he thought it was bizarre that Duch (his real name was Kaing Guek Eav) would accept his interview when there was a possibility that he would be captured. Still, he answered Dunlop’s questions in an evasive manner. To Dunlop, the lost executioner seemed to be in genuine remorse and regret and he didn’t look like a murderer burdened with the deaths of 14,000 innocent individuals. Rather, he was a friendly and a disarming individual with no trace of the ruthless executioner whatsoever.

Kaing Guek Eav, "Commander Duch", "The Lost Executioner"

Listening to Dunlop’s thoughts and experiences had got me thinking about the power of photojournalism and its consequences, because Dunlop’s journalism ultimately lead to the discovery and the first ever trial of an ex-Khmer Rouge official, in spite of the executioner being in hiding for 20 years without being found.

I believe that this shows how capable journalists can be and how the “truth” can be transmitted and told, and justice can be, indirectly or directly, served with the help of journalism.

Personally, I recently visited Cambodia and was astonished by the progress that the country made in the last 38 years from the horrific genocide. Phnom Penh had become a bustling city with energy as people do their own thing. Even though, Dunlop had denied about his contribution to Cambodia’s advancement in an interview (Phnom Penh Post), I believe that it is still undeniable that Nic Dunlop had brought some peace, relief and calm to the Cambodian people with his photojournalism.

"Today the people of Cambodia and all the world remember those who died, and hope that this trial and the delivery of the final judgement bring some relief for your pain and suffering," - Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister Sok An
A picture that was taken during my service trip to Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Dunlop describes photography as a motive medium and a powerful tool that tells and shows complex background stories. Behind moments captured with his camera are different tales that give new meaning and context to the world we live in. Therefore, using photojournalism, he is not only able to give more information, but he is also able to open up a whole new perspective on an issue, as Dunlop did to the people of Cambodia and the world about a missing Khmer Rouge executioner.

Nic Dunlop's book on Commander "Duch": "The Lost Executioner"
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