The suffering under the Khmer Rouge still shapes the daily lives of the three civil parties who appeared in the tribunal’s final victim impact hearings yesterday.
Sophany Bay, whose three children grew sick and died during the regime, now works in San Jose, California, as a mental health counsellor for immigrant Cambodian families.
These families, like Bay herself, have “brought along with them the traumatic life they experienced during the Khmer Rouge regime”, Bay told the court. “I try to reconcile them [with] the dramatic experiences they came across.”
All of Bay’s relatives died under the Khmer Rouge except her husband, whom the Lon Nol regime had sent to the US for military training before 1975. Bay joined her husband in 1983.
Like Bay and many of her patients, civil party Seng Sivutha said she frequently has nightmares about the Khmer Rouge.
But Sivutha, who was nine when the Khmer Rouge captured Phnom Penh, also bears a constant physical reminder of her experience.
While forced to carry pig excrement out of a pit, Sivutha fell down and was beaten by Khmer Rouge cadres. A blow to her eye caused it to become infected, and she has since become blind.
“My body trembles when there is a loud noise. And sometimes I become short-tempered and I have to hit one of my children,” she said.
Studies have found post-traumatic stress disorder to be prevalent among Khmer Rouge survivors.
Positive relics of the past were few in yesterday’s hearing. Civil party Soeun Sovandy showed the court his one remaining family photo, taken in the area of southern Vietnam known to some as Kampuchea Krom.
The Khmer Rouge targeted Khmer Krom, calling them “Cambodians with Vietnamese heads”, and Sovandy lost his whole family, he said.
Sovandy asked accused former leaders: “If you happened to return to lead this regime again, would you do it differently?”
Khieu Samphan reiterated that he had not known of the atrocities but said if he had, he “would demand categorically that the Communist Party of Kampuchea redirect its direction to its original plan … [of] peace and prosperity”.
Nuon Chea, speaking by video link from his holding cell, said simply that it would depend on the country’s “situation”.