The coming Khmer Rouge Trial is pulling personal emotions into the public sphere
as increasing numbers of Cambodians like Pav Phiron, 38, seek to contact the court
to add their tales of bereavement to the broader cry for justice.
The recent discovery of conclusive evidence of his father's death at the hands of
the genocidal regime inspired Phiron on June 14 to call upon the Extraordinary Chambers
in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), as the KR tribunal is known, to bring justice and
compensation and hold the Khmer Rouge leaders to account.
Specifically, Phiron accused Ta Mok and Khieu Samphan of being responsible for killing
his father, two of his sisters, and at least 100 members of his extended family between
1975 and 1979.
His request that Khieu Samphan and Ta Mok be held to account is explained by his
devastating experience of the Khmer Rouge regime.
After an evacuation order by Khieu Samphan, which Phiron said he family heard on
radio, they fled the capital. His father, Pav Pan, was the Phnom Penh National Police
Chief during the Sangkum Reastr Niyum and Lon Nol regimes.
Despite frantic attempts to disguise his identity and keep the family together, Pav
Pan was arrested in 1976 in Phnom Srok district in Battambang province, then under
the jurisdiction of Ta Mok, Phiron says.
"They rounded up all the teachers, doctors, former civil servants, soldiers,
and police," said Eam May Sea, 72, Phiron's mother.
"Pol Pot cooked a big meal for them and said if they told the truth about what
they did before the Khmer Rouge they would get their old jobs back. I hid and watched.
They were all very happy with the good food, but then they were all taken to Phnom
Penh and none of them came back."
Khmer Rouge policy was to kill all family members of suspected enemies of the regime.
Despite three separate investigations by the Khmer Rouge, Phiron, his mother, three
brothers and the other four sisters were able to evade capture and certain death
by changing their names.
"I told my children to tell anyone who asked that their father was a barber,"
said May Sea. "But I told them this during the day - at night it was too dangerous
to talk as spies would be listening."
In 1980, a chance mention by a friend of having seen the name on the walls of the
Khmer Rouge's notorious torture prison Toul Sleng precipitated Phiron into an exhausting
search for the answer to the haunting question of his father's fate.
"I knew my father would tell the truth about his former role," Phiron said.
"He loved his job. He had already served two regimes already, why not one more?"
But his father's honesty was not rewarded and for 27 years Phiron sought to find
out what had happened to him under the Khmer Rouge. Finally, he asked DC-Cam (Documentation
Center of Cambodia) for help on June 6. Just one day later he received a photo and
a letter explaining his father's detention and death.
Email has sped up the personal quests of expatriate Cambodians to discover the fate
of their missing relatives, said Youk Chhang, director of DC-Cam.
Every month between 15 and 20 people, both living in Cambodia and outside, ask the
center to find photos and documents related to their relatives who were killed in
Toul Sleng during the Pol Pot regime, Chhang said.
"These people are the wives, husbands, children, or friends of people killed
in Toul Sleng," he said. "Some people ask my center to find their husband
or father's picture and related killing documents in order that they know the date
their husband or father got killed and then they organize the [funeral] ceremony.
Some just want to find the photo of their relatives to keep at home for respect and
others just want to know whether their relatives were really killed in the prison
Chhang said about 80 percent of people who were killed after being put in Toul Sleng
prison have photos, while others have only documents. According to DC-Cam's information,
14,000 people - including civil servants, police, and Lon Nol's soldiers - were incarcerated
at the Toul Sleng prison. Only 12 survived.
If the Khmer Rouge Trial brings justice, it will honor both the souls of his dead
family members and the souls of all who perished under the genocidal regime and ensure
their bravery and sacrifice is not forgotten in Cambodia, Phiron said.
Compensating the families of individual victims of the Khmer Rouge regime would be
a monumental task, but Kek Galabru, president of the human rights NGO Licadho, said
that by law in other countries, victims not only get justice, but compensation. She
said she did not know whether the court would be able to seize Ieng Sary and other
Khmer Rouge leaders' assets to compensate the victims or not.
"Having the Khmer Rouge Trial helps to find justice for the victims and relieve
some sadness of the victims' relatives even though it could not pay compensation
to them," she said. "It is an example for the next generation - do not
commit crimes as during Pol Pot regime otherwise they will be punished."
On May 8, the ECCC (Extraordinary Chambers) issued an official list of 30 national
and international judges and prosecutors to work for them, to judge leaders and people
most responsible during the Democratic Kampuchea regime between April 17, 1975 and
January 7, 1979.
The international judges and prosecutors will arrive in Cambodia in July, said Reach
Sambath, spokesman for the Khmer Rouge Tribunal. On July 3, the national and international
judges and prosecutors plan to meet at the Royal Palace for the swearing-in ceremony.
This will be followed by a one-week strategic planning workshop.
Sambath said that before the end of the year, the co-prosecutors might work on finding
evidence for the accusations that will then be passed on to the investigating judges.
The trial is expected to take place next year.
"When the Khmer Rouge Trial goes well, it will be seen as an example for finding
justice both within and outside the country," Galabru said.