On November 7 (USA) PBS will air "Pol Pot's Shadow". To check listings in your area, try
The site is well worth a look, and includes interviews with Chanrithy Him, Sophiline Shapiro, and Prach Ly.
Below: Essay by Chanrithy Him about the need for a trial of Khmer Rouge leaders. (Written in 1998 in response to comments by Cambodia's Prime Minister)
Cambodia Needs Closure
By Chanrithy Him
Here I am in a sheltered home in the quiet Willamette Valley in Oregon, yet I can't sleep. Indignation, frustration, and bewilderment
attack me. Today I had to miss work so I can express what is troubling me. My soul is disturbed by the news developments in Cambodia, and my mind can’t help but takes me back to the killing fields, the muddy rice paddies, the labor camps, where the Khmer Rouge forced me to work from the time I was nine until I was thirteen.
In 1979 the Vietnamese invaded Cambodia and drove the Khmer Rouge to the border. On November 14, 1981 I came to America. At 16, without my parents, I started a new life in Portland, Oregon where I began high school. Less than four years, I graduated with honors, then went on to the
University of Oregon to study pre-med.
As a child growing up during the Khmer Rouge era, I lost my father to execution. I watched my mother, sisters, and baby brother die from
starvation and curable disease. Helplessly, I made a promise that if I survived these nightmares, I would become a medical doctor, so I can help
others for I couldn’t help my own family. Painfully powerless, I was vehemently determined to never feel this way again.
For years, though sometimes unsuccessful, I managed to repress these haunting memories while striving for academic success. But now my dream of becoming a medical healer has to be postponed.
Two years ago I put aside my pursuit of medical school because the troubled child in me beckoned, long neglected. It is only right that now I
take care of her.
I've been speaking at universities and secondary schools as well as writing my memoir, When Broken Glass Floats: Growing Up Under the Khmer
Rouge, in hopes that I would help my wounded heart and soul, as well as educate the world about it.
Lately the little girl in me had begun to calm down, trying to heal, until a few days before the new year when I learned of the terrible, tragic
Before 1998 could quietly end—as part of a move to stop the civil war with the Khmer Rouge—Hun Sen, Prime Minister of Cambodia and former Khmer Rouge cadre, welcomed to Phnom Penh two notorious architects of the Cambodian genocide, which killed an estimated two million Cambodians.1 He was reportedly to have given Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea each a $10,000 expense account and VIP treatments to expensive hotels and tours.
Then to the world he dared say: "If we bring them to trial (as war criminals), it will not benefit the nation . . . We should dig a hole and
bury the past . . . If the wound no longer hurts, we shouldn't poke a stick in it and make it bleed."
What a mockery to us survivors as well as to those who perished!
Apparently he knows nothing about the pain and suffering most of us still endure.
For ten years I have worked as a research associate at the Oregon Health Sciences University (OHSU) for The Khmer Adolescent Project—a major study of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in Cambodian youths who survived the Khmer Rouge regime. The goal of this research, developed by Dr. William Sack—former director of the Division of Child Psychiatry at OHSU—is to give medical colleagues throughout the world an understanding of the survivors' trauma, in order to better help those seeking psychological treatment. It is through this research that I've witnessed the pain and suffering of the survivors.
Memory speaks until it hurts. As I write this article, the sad faces of our subjects, whose eyes swollen from releasing their agony during
psychiatric interviews, trigger hot unwelcome tears at the back of my own eyes.
The reality of indelible pain oozes out again.
I think of a Cambodian woman whom I interviewed who wept so hard that the interview stopped. The ragged sounds of her sobbing increased as I
— "Were you ever tortured by Khmer Rouge soldiers?
—"Did you ever witness people being killed, or see corpses, or lose your mother or father or any siblings during this time?"
—"Did you suffer from never having enough to eat? Or watch executions of your family members?"
She was a small woman, staring at the tabletop as if the answers were projected upon it like a movie. She sat only a few feet across from me, yet
she was distant. Her mind was trapped by her past. Though physically she was no longer in Cambodia, but mentally she's still there.
The Khmer Rouge are a continent away, yet they are not. Psychologically, they are parasites, tapeworms that slumber dormantly within
you, living passively until something stirs them to life — a thought, a sound, a smell, a memory.
Even now I am still paying a personal price as I interview our clinical subjects for a six-year follow-up study. Listening to one horrific
story after another has exacerbated my own trauma. And now, my pain is increased further by Mr. Hun Sen's preposterous comments: Bury the past.
The wound no longer hurts. Shouldn't poke a stick in it and make it bleed.
What a stab!
As a survivor, I want to be worthy of the suffering I endured as a child. I don't want to let that pain count for nothing, nor do I want to
forget it. If I'm given a chance to talk to Mr. Hun Sen, I want to tell tohim:
You're wrong about the wound of the past. A trial of Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea for their war crimes against humanity would certainly benefit
Cambodia, a nation that is very psychologically inflicted, as well as those survivors in the Khmer diaspora. Their apologies can never be enough. The
Khmer Rouge must be held accountable for their crimes. Justice must be sought for the survivors and those in the mass graves. Cambodia needs
closure to her tragic past, and so do I.
The wound still hurts. And all we want is a chance to heal.
Mr. Hun Sen, bygones cannot be allowed to be bygones.
Be an example. Be a leader. Leave a respected legacy.
Chanrithy Him received her B.S. in biochemistry from the University of Oregon. She is the author of the internationally acclaimed, award-winning
memoir, When Broken Glass Floats: Growing Up Under the Khmer Rouge (W. W. Norton). She is also a lecturer and Cambodian Classical dancer
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