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Commemorating The Life Of Dith Pran

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse

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Mr. President, I rise today to commemorate the extraordinary life of Dith Pran, who risked his life to expose the terrors of the Khmer Rouge regime in his native Cambodia, and who later became the subject of the Oscar award-winning film, ``The Killing Fields.'' Mr. Dith died March 30, 2008, in New Jersey, surrounded by relatives and friends. He was a defender of human rights, a journalist, a teacher, and a hero.

As many fled Cambodia during the fall of Phnom Penh to the Khmer Rouge in 1975, Mr. Dith 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. He believed his country and people could only be saved from the Khmer Rouge if individuals in other countries understood the tragedy gathering in his homeland.

Amidst the crisis spreading throughout Southeast Asia in the years following the Vietnam war--a crisis my father, Charles Whitehouse, also saw firsthand through his work as U.S. Ambassador to Laos and Thailand in the 1970s--Dith Pran was a witness to, and a fierce critic of, the greatest atrocities men have inflicted upon their fellow men.

Against all odds, Mr. Dith survived the Cambodian genocide in which 2 million Cambodians, one-third of the population, were killed. Most of his extended family were also killed. He suffered through 4 years of hard labor, living on just one teaspoon of rice a day and whatever animals and insects he could find. Mr. Dith finally escaped from a commune and travelled 40 miles to the Thai border through what he coined ``the killing fields,'' past the bodies of those killed by the Khmer Rouge, before reaching safety.

After reaching the United States, Mr. Dith 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 in order to prevent future genocides. He was appointed a United Nations Goodwill Ambassador by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in 1985.

For his efforts to educate the world, Mr. Dith was awarded the Ellis Island Medal of Honor in 1998. He also received the Award of Excellence from the International Center in New York.

Dith Pran said: ``Part of my life is saving life. I don't consider myself a politician or a hero. I'm a messenger. If Cambodia is to survive, she needs many voices.'' Dith Pran has been a powerful and compelling voice for his countrymen and the land he loved. His willingness to share his story brought light to dark places and hope to millions.

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