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Release: April 25, 2002  

UI Center for Human Rights announces selection for fall 2002 book project    

To allow book groups, teachers, librarians, and others to plan their participation in its fall 2002 "All Johnson County Reads the Same Book" project, the University of Iowa Center for Human Rights (UICHR) is announcing its selection now for the project, which will run from Sept. 22-Nov. 15. The center, in conjunction with representatives from Iowa City, Coralville, and the University of Iowa, has selected "First they Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers," a memoir by Loung Ung.

Written in a child's voice, the book tells in stark detail the horrors that Ung and her family suffered under the regime of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, which, through starvation, disease, forced labor, torture and execution, systematically killed an estimated 2 million Cambodians between 1975-1979. Almost one-fourth of the entire Cambodian population -- men, women, and children -- died.

With "First They Killed My Father," Ung bears poignant witness to this senseless slaughter. Her harrowing story of the degradation of the human spirit and the loss of innocence, of the atrocities she saw and her struggle to survive against all odds, is one of incomprehensible tragedy and inspirational triumph.

Dith Pran, whose wartime life was portrayed in the award-winning movie "The Killing Fields," said of the book: "Loung has written an eloquent and powerful narrative as a young witness to the Khmer Rouge atrocities. This is an important story that will have a dramatic impact on today's readers and inform generations to come." Pran visited the UI during its Global Focus: Human Rights 98, an initiative organized in 1998-99 by Burns Weston, a UI emeritus professor of law and director of the UICHR, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the signing of the United Nations Universal Declaration on Human Rights.

The launch of the Johnson County book project has been planned to coincide with the start of Banned Book Week and the Engle Literary Festival, September 22. Questions will be available online on the UICHR website ( at the start of the 2002-2003 academic year, to be joined by an interactive website of the Iowa City Press-Citizen between Sept. 2-Nov. 15. Several public discussions of the book will be scheduled during this eight-week period.

Born into a middle-class family at the height of Cambodia's bloody civil war, Loung Ung was just five years old when Pol Pot's genocidal Khmer Rouge overran the country and forced the entire population of the capital into the countryside. By 1978, her parents and two of her siblings were dead at the hands of the Khmer Rouge, and the young girl was trained to become a child soldier. Two years later, she escaped and eventually settled as a refugee in Vermont through a sponsorship of the Holy Family Church. Now a resident of Cleveland, Ohio, Ung is presently National Spokesperson for the Campaign for Landmine Free World, a program of the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation.The UI Center for Human Rights is working to arrange for Ung to visit Iowa City and read from and comment on her book at the end of the community reading. More information about Ung and her book is available online at a number of sites, including