One man remembered how, as a little boy, he had been playing with his father in front of their family home when Khmer Rouge soldiers came to beat his dad and take him away to be executed. Another man's voice began to catch as he described how his younger sister had cried for rice from her deathbed.
"I want the court to take this miserable strain from our bodies and souls," he told panelists at the Center for Social Development's national conference at the Cambodiana last Thursday.
To say the least, it was an emotional day. I had only attended one of CSD's forums before -- in former Khmer Rouge stronghold Pailin -- and while that was also a powerful experience, I found the national conference even more moving. I was struck by the rawness of participants' emotions and the passion of their demands for justice.
The conference on "justice and reconciliation" was the second of its kind and provided an overview of the public forums CSD has held throughout the last year. There were six organized in 2008, engaging nearly 1,000 villagers in discussions about the Khmer Rouge, national reconciliation and work underway at the tribunal.
Participants Thursday were hungry for justice and frustrated by repeated delays at the court. One said legal shenanigans at the ECCC were "not taking seriously the souls of millions of people." Another joked that if there were no justice, "there will be a suicide bomb" at the court.
As the conference wound up, Co-Investigating Judge Marcel Lemonde made what I thought was a very perceptive point.
"Some say that this court is totally artificial," he told the audience, that "Buddhists have not the same perception of life and justice. I think this is not true. I think the need for justice is the same."
From the testimonies I heard at this conference alone, I would have to agree.
* Pictured: A Khmer Rouge survivor addresses panelists at CSD's national conference Thursday.
** For those interested, additional pictures of the Pailin forum have been posted on CSD's website.