Khmer Rouge Massacres Relived in Victims’ Brief

Cannibalism, children smash­ed against trees and massacres of Cham Muslims while they prayed to Allah are some of the horrors recounted in the closing brief of civil party supporting evidence in the prosecution of Khmer Rouge second-in-command Nuon Chea and former head of state Khieu Samphan.

The tribunal is the first court of its kind to allow victims to participate directly in trial proceedings as civil parties. Deemed some of those most affected by the Pol Pot regime, civil parties can appeal for collective and moral reparations, including stupas, and can support the prosecution through their testimony.

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Civil party Sorn Sen testifies in 2015 at the Khmer Rouge tribunal about his time at Kraing Ta Chan security center. (ECCC)

Of the nearly 4,000 civil parties whose applications were declared admissible by investigators, 64 testified in the second trial of the aging defendants—providing some of the trial’s most harrowing evidence—which is recalled in the 506-page document released yesterday.

“I was climbing a palm juice tree in the afternoon to take the juice for the chief and from the top of the palm tree I could see that the two children were taken away,” witness Sorn Sen told the court in February 2015.

“Usually, while I was climbing they would wait for me to bring down the palm juice, and that day I heard the sound of the children and then I heard the sound of cracking the children against the palm tree,” he said.

“And when I looked down, I saw the children were smashed against the palm trees and then the gallbladders were taken out from both the children and hanged there.”

Mr. Sen was one of the first civil parties to testify in the second phase of Case 002, under which Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan will learn if they have been found guilty of crimes including genocide later this year.

He recounted numerous macabre tales of death and torture at the Kraing Ta Chan security center, located in the regime’s “model district” of Tram Kak in Takeo province.

In one instance, he described witnessing women being repeatedly and fatally raped with rifles.

A cadre “killed them and then he ordered me to bury them, and then he asked whether I saw the M-79 grenade heads in their vaginas and I said, ‘Yes, I did,’” he told the court.

The alleged killer, who currently lives near Mr. Sen’s Tram Kak home, denied the accusation in an interview with Cambodia Daily reporters in 2014 and in the court the following year.

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Civil party No Satas speaks inside her home in Kompong Cham province’s Svay Khleang village in 2015. (Jens Welding Ollgaard)

Cham Massacre

Civil party testimony about the treatment of Cham Muslims led to some of the most shocking stories about their persecution under the Khmer Rouge, including Him Man’s recollection of witnessing a massacre of his people at Kompong Cham province’s Wat Au Trakuon in 1977.

“They started to kill the Cham people and why could I say that, because the place where I was hiding was about 100 meters away from the pit where they were killing the Cham people. I heard screams,” he told the court.

“I was lying in the bushes with my wife and we heard the screams. We even heard the sound from people being hit. We heard people screaming to Allah for help. They screamed, ‘O Allah, my Lord,’” he said.

Mr. Man’s testimony became even darker when he claimed he was forced to hide in a nearby pond.

“Sometimes I could smell the stench, bad smells. Somehow, the stench turned sweet. My nose could no longer make a distinction anymore,” he explained.

“Actually, if the dead bodies had ever flowed in my direction, I would have torn them into pieces and ate them because of the hunger,” he said. “My nose did not sense the stench anymore, but the sweet scent coming from the pits where my parents had been buried.”

Despite widespread stories of disappearances and killings, the Nuon Chea defense argued in its brief that Cham Muslims targeted by the regime were guilty of unlawful activities such as treason or espionage, therefore absolving their client of genocide.

A general view of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) building is seen on the outskirts of Phnom Penh in August 2016.


Most civil parties described experiencing psychological trauma following their experiences, including No Satas, a civil party who survived the 1975 suppression of the Cham rebellion in Kompong Cham province’s Svay Khleang village.

“Sometimes I have to go to the field to cry and shout loudly to relieve myself. Every time I go to transplant rice seedlings, I sing and shout to relieve myself like a crazy person and people sometimes ask me why I shout and cry and I told them that no, I was acting as normal,” she told the court in September 2015.

“I have been suffering since that period,” she said. “I had suffered enough and nothing can compare with this suffering.”

The mental scars inflicted on civil parties who were forced to marry during the regime are also highlighted in the brief.

The joyless nuptials devoid of Khmer traditions for people who had not previously met, sometimes followed by rape or cadres spying on them to ensure they were consummating their marriage, left many civil parties mentally scarred, the brief notes.

“After the marriage, I was forced to consummate my marriage. I had been raped. I was looked down by others,” Mom Vun told the court last year.

“I had suffering in my life. Nothing could compare. Even [if] I die, I [will] still remember about the injury and the mistreatment that was inflicted upon me.”

Collective Memory

The descriptions recounted in the courtroom over the two-year trial were challenged in Nuon Chea’s defense brief.

His lawyers characterize civil parties as being organized into “large groups that share common lawyers” and may in fact be representing “collective memory” that has become distorted upon hearing information after the events, rather than their personal experiences.

The defense counsel also cited what it called “mythological accepted truths”—including the smashing of babies against trees and the consumption of body parts—as evidence of this among witnesses, civil parties and experts.

Civil parties are most susceptible to this, Nuon Chea’s lawyers claim, especially as they do not testify under oath.

Marie Guiraud, international lead co-lawyer for the civil parties, said the reason civil parties were not required to take an oath was due to their status within the proceedings.

“Why would victims decide to become civil parties and participate in criminal proceedings if their evidence would de facto have less probative value? In that case, we would advise all our clients not to file civil party applications so they can testify as witnesses,” Ms. Guiraud said in an email.

The French lawyer also refuted the claim that survivors were simply regurgitating stories heard from others.

“Our Brief has been solely based on oral evidence provided by civil parties at trial,” she said. “Civil parties who testified during proceedings testified to their personal experiences and each party, as well as the Chamber, had the opportunity to put questions to them to test their evidence.”

“To make a broad conclusion that they are particularly susceptible to criticism based on ‘collective memory’ is not a particularly fair conclusion.”

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