On June 18th, 2021 a community forum was held inside the eating hall of Trapeang Thom monastery in Trapeang Thom village of Anlong Veng district, involving 8 villagers (4 women and 4 men), six of whom lived through the Khmer Rouge regime (1975-1979). As two of them were born after the fall of the regime, the composition of the participants matched our goals to engage the elderly and younger generation in a discussion and reflection on the KR regime, and also to draw our attention to the trial of former KR leaders and those most responsible for the crimes committed during the regime. Our last key goal was also to examine the impact of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) on the rule of law in their communities.
Inside the wood hall, novice and Buddhist clergies were also present to welcome the eight villagers as they came from every direction by foot and motorbikes. One of the attendees brought along two of her grandsons and her granddaughter. While sitting in the prepared chairs, the team started by introducing Anlong Veng Peace Center’s objectives to hold a community forum and also to share its project activities and ongoing efforts to research and document the history of the KR regime with the participants.
This led all the participants to discuss what they will forget about the regime. A female participant with her grandchildren responded, with a mild smile, that the regime abused the rights its citizens by overworking them, including this participant, by making them carry earth and build dikes. The regime also subjected its citizens to a horrible life. Her smiling began to fade away when she uttered, “I am so fed up with that.”
Each participant had their own, unique memories of the painful past. Chou Sanh, 56 years old, shared with the participants her woeful story. With her eyes brimmed with tears, she said her mother and two of her siblings were taken away because her family were capitalists. They were about to be executed, when, fortunately, they managed to survive as the Vietnamese army kept pushing into the boundaries KR territory and the KR escaped. It’s this story that she will never forget. For her, it’s was a merciless and brutal era that should not have happened in our country. Sanh witnessed the murder of her fellow citizens people and their blood-tainted clothes removed for use in cooperative.
After hearing this, Long Chanthan, 56 years old, broke his silence by calling attention to the death of his uncles. They were simply charged with treacherous activity for visiting a home without any notice or permission. He added that both serious and minor mistakes made citizens highly vulnerable to execution. Long Chantan continued, that, “It was unacceptable for all mankind as the regime downgraded us as animals that could be killed anytime.” He further emphasized that everyone lived in a state of having no chance to judge or distinguish between right and the wrong. All they could do was to pray for help from our ancestors.
In the forum, participants really wished to talk at great length about their personal experiences, the loss of their family, and the terrible daily life of the KR period. Each resonated in the words of their neighbors. This was the case of Chean Phalla, 62 years old. Phalla agreed with Chanthan’s narratives and even pointed to an example of unfolding the truth. She shared with the group the fact that grave after grave were unearthed to look for valuable jewelry after the fall of the KR regime. This happened not only in her village but in others nearby as the screaming resounded in the nights. Having heard this, Chanthan added that he sacrificed most of his life to serving the KR only to find that so many people, including his relatives, died and subordinates were blamed.
At this point, all the participants in the forum came unanimously agreed that it was “most appropriate” to try ‘senior KR leaders and those most responsible for the crimes committed during the KR time.” A chain of reactions over the trials of those KR leaders at the ECCC were subsequently made. Three of the participants claimed that they frequently viewed the trial proceeding on social media and heard of them from their neighbors. Phalla underlined that it was worth trying the KR leaders in a court of law as they led the country disastrously and killed up to 2 million people
The participants believed the trial would serve as a model of rule of law. Chanthan and Phalla viewed it as a good sign for a prosperous and free society. Attendees joined both in reiterating that when everyone is equal before the law, we can live happily and without oppression. Chathan added that the law should be applied to any wrongdoers even if they came from a rich or poor family. To the participants, ‘rule of law’ would be immensely helpful as it could alleviate the possibility of people being exploited and oppressed, and enable people to lead peaceful lives. Dom Horng, 51 years old, agreed with all the comments, but he also noted that it is a robust means to uphold the people’s rights.
Having carefully listened to the discussion, Nget Pouk, 40 years old, said although he was born after the KR regime, he could learn about its history in many different ways. Nget shared with other participants a deep emphatic feeling of hardship and suffering. The regime led to the regrettable losses of his own relatives and our Cambodian people. Such a regime should never happen again. To him, it was impossible for the KR to create a society having “one color or mode.”
The participants expressed, at the end of the form, that they viewed it as a rare public gathering that allowed and facilitated discussion concerning KR history and the trial proceeding against the KR leaders, , particularly during the spread of the Covid-19. Sanh said: “I thank the team very much for holding this forum and distributing some materials to the people. I am very happy. Most importantly, the team has brought up for discussion among the villagers KR history.” Similarly, Ath Dy, 75 years old, said: “The forum this morning was significant and fruitful. What I loved the most was both the polite, verbal expression of the team and the distribution of food and other stuffs such as face masks, anti-virus alcohol and cakes.”
PHOTO LINK: https://photos.app.goo.gl/ibKeixGe9a9AvCkT7
DONOR: United States Agency for International Development (USAID)
TEAM: Mek Ven, Ly Sok-Kheang, Hean Pisey and Sout Vechet
REPORT: Ly Sok-Kheang