On the day her father died in 1977, Hun Sethany had fallen ill and was granted a rare leave from her post at the Khmer Rouge’s “January 1” dam.
She returned to the pagoda where she slept on a mat of tree bark, her body trembling and pale. It was only later that she learned her father had been removed from his worksite that afternoon and taken for execution, she told the Khmer Rouge tribunal yesterday.
For nearly five hours, Sethany detailed how she suffered at the hands of the regime at the dam worksite, but the strenuous conditions and neglect of sanitation were overshadowed by her personal loss.
“I could not even weep when I heard the news. I consoled my siblings, I advised them to work hard and survive,” she told the court, explaining she feared people would think she was psychologically disturbed if she cried.
“I had to get things out of my heart when it was raining,” Sethany said, noting that the rain masked her tears.
Yesterday in court, however, she wept openly, her breath rattling with emotion.
“I saw many pits and graves near the Baray pagoda [in Kampong Cham province] and there were skeletal remains,” she recalled. “I believe that my father was killed there.”
The month following her father’s execution, her younger brother fell ill and died. Her mother grew unrecognisably thin. Then, under the guise of moving to “a new land”, with the instruction from cadre to pack seedlings for planting, her mother and siblings were driven away by ox cart, alongside many other families, and executed.
There was no ritual for the dead, Sethany said. “I wanted to die in [that] period”.
The defences for co-accused Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan, meanwhile, pressed the witness on the specific hours of her work day and the use of pesticides to control insects.
Sethany scoffed at the notion of pest control, saying workers’ soup was “full of flies, and we had to pick them out one by one”. Workers were even scolded for being too clean and given little time to wash, she went on to say.
The witness recalled menstruating women were not given sanitary napkins and were forced to bleed openly in stained trousers while they worked; many ultimately stopped menstruating from malnutrition.
“Am I correct to say the cadres knew about the condition of the workers but they did not care or pay attention to it?” asked civil party lawyer Beini Ye.
“They did not care at all,” Sethany replied.
Sethany rocked in her seat as she delivered a statement at the end of her testimony, saying she was lonely in a way only other victims of the regime could understand; she lost everything.
“Are you responsible for the killing of human beings?” she asked the defendants.
“Do you admit your acts in that period?”
The accused maintained the right to remain silent and her questions went unanswered.
The trial continues today.