Responding Letters From Victims Unit

Posted by khmernews on August 7, 2008

From 17 April 1975 Cambodia, Cambodia had fallen under the rule of Khmer Rouge soldiers. At the time, Khmer Rouge leaders exiled people from cities to remote areas, forcing them to work restlessly without giving them enough food, suppressing their freedom of speech and family union, having no hospitals or medicines for patients, and capturing people for torture and killings if they were found out committing acts against the Angkar’s order. In 1979, the United Front for the National Salvation of Kampuchea (UFNSK) supported by Vietnamese troops overthrew the Khmer Rouge soldiers and chased them to the mountainous regions along Cambodian-Thai border. In 1991, the Paris Peace Treaty was made between the Khmer Rouge and the Government of Cambodia, leading to the National Election in 1993. Subsequently, the remaining Khmer Rouge soldiers integrated with the Government of Cambodia.

Under the government brought about by the National Election, the country was getting more prosperous while the finding of justice for the people has not been forgotten. However, it wasn’t until mid-2006 that our government and the United Nations could establish the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) to try former senior Khmer Rouge leaders and those most responsible, including Khieu Samphan, Ieng Sary, Ieng Thirith, Nuon Chea and Duch. The ECCC allows the victims of Democratic Kampuchea to lodge complaints to seek justice.

In 2007 the Documentation Center of Cambodia (DC-Cam) met people in provinces and helped 1,224 of them to submit complaints to the Khmer Rouge court. On July 21, 2008 as a member of staff in DC-Cam’s Victims Project, I received responding letters from the ECCC’s Victims Unit.

The victims who have lodged complaint to the court were required to describe the events they have gone through and seen.  While filling in the complaint form, the victims were very enthusiastic to give information and their experience during the Khmer Rouge regime. However, recalling their past, some victims could not hold back their tears. This shows that the sufferings still remain even though three decades have passed. Therefore, what should we do to solve these problems?

“What will the court have to compensate the destruction and sufferings of Cambodian victims during that regime?” asked Aunt Kong, a vendor living in Beung Keng Kong commune, Chamkar Morn district, Phnom Penh.

But she does not disagree with what the government and the United Nations are doing to seek justice for the victims of the 1975-1979 Democratic Kampuchea regime. I think, on one hand, Aunt Kong only wants to know about the reparations which the court has yet to promise anything. On the other hand, Cambodians still do not understand the meaning of “justice” to be given by the hybrid court. According to Samdech Sang Chhuon Nath Dictionary, “justice” means “integrity, behaviours conforming to law and moral judgment.”  However, this term means more than this. A just society is a society in which there are no conflicts, suppression, exploitation but peace and mutual understandings. Because Cambodia fell into years-long social crises and deep divisions, it has brought about corruption and injustice. Worse, the leadership of Pol Pot, Ieng Sary and Khieu Samphan clique executed as many as almost two million of their people (Cambodians) thanks to their radical ideology. We know that at the present time some former grassroots Khmer Rouge cadres and victims are living together in happy co-existence. This is a case we should find an appropriate solution so that the people could live in a society in which they have both physical and mental peace. We have asked some people for how they think about the trials of former Khmer Rouge leaders.

Some say that the trials are enough as long as all the Khmer Rouge leaders are brought to justice while some say they are enough as long as there are reparations such as pagodas, schools, roads, and hospitals. However, some want the trial to be fair and impartial and without corruption.

Rin, who is living in Svay Rieng province and who is one of the million Cambodian victims, says that besides suffering from the forced labour, starvation and torture, he lost some relatives, especially her eldest sister who was the breadwinner in his family. As there are delays in the trials of the Khmer Rouge leaders, he fears that those people (the five currently detained Khmer Rouge leaders) could die before the trials take place, while he himself is not sure whether he could wait to see the trials, as he has illness. Rin adds that: “If I could see the court give justice to me and all Cambodians, my illness may get better and my mind would be calmed down.” With these answers, I think Rin want to see a fair court for which he and other Cambodians have been waiting longingly.

Some other people who have lodged complaints always expect that the court will give justice because there is international participation. Sin Khor, residing in Chreang Chamres, looks surprised when we gave her the responding letter from the court and told her, “This is a court’s letter in response to the Khmer Rouge-related information you’ve given through filling in your complaint form, and this information is very important for the court and especially valuable for the history.” I have met and given the responding letters not only to Sin Khor but also to Chan Pae living in Tuol Sangkae and Sar Sam Oeun, Mao Vanny and Khann Thavy, who are living in Phnom Penh Thmey.  “We thought the court did not care about our suffering stories because there was no reply,” they say, adding that they are happy as they know the court is paying attention to the events that happened during the 3 years, 8 months and 20 days.

“I am very happy to receive the letter from the court. It shows that my complaint is not left untouched by the court,” Pae says, adding that even though there are no financial reparations, it is enough as long as the court and the Victims Unit are paying attention because at least the events that happened to him 30 years ago is now known by the court. He says he is very happy now.

We see some reasons why the Victims Unit is slow to respond to the victims. Through a meeting with the Victims Unit, we know that it is because the Victims Unit has no enough funds to hire staff to work. However, the unit is responding to the victims one after another. This is the motivation for the victims who have lodged complaints and a great success of the victims after the establishment of the court to try former Khmer Rouge leaders.

Although they are very hectic to earn their living, Cambodian people still share their time to give information to the court which will be used as a historical record for younger generations. All Cambodians think that only the Khmer Rouge court could find justice for them and calm them down. As they have been replied by the court and the Victims Unit, they are happy, although they have to wait a bit longer.

Prak Keodara
Documentation Center of Cambodia

Unofficial Translation
-Extracted from Rasmei Kampuchea, vol. 16, #4658, Suday-Monday, August 3-4, 2008.


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