Survivor Tells Tribunal of Human Breasts Hung in Pagoda

A woman whose parents and siblings were killed during the Pol Pot regime told the Khmer Rouge tribunal Tuesday that life was like “living in a hell” and explained how she was warned to avoid a pagoda where the breasts of executed women were rumored to have been hung.

Seang Sovida, 51, who is now a public servant at the Ministry of Interior in Phnom Penh, recounted how her family was evacuated from the capital to Kratie province after the Khmer Rouge took control of the country.

In 1977, she volunteered to work at the January 1 Dam in Kompong Thom province in the hope that it would help save her family members, who were facing persecution after being labeled “new people” in Kratie. Her sister, Ms. Sovida said, had been forced into a marriage and deprived of food due to her initial hesitance to consummate the relationship.

“Although I was younger, I would do everything for my family so that they could be in peace and I [did] not mind whether I would be exhausted from hard work…and it was my expectation that my family members would be left alone,” she said.

Soon after arriving at the dam worksite, Ms. Sovida claimed, she was warned by elders there to avoid the nearby Baray Choan Dek pagoda, which had been turned into a torture center by the Khmer Rouge.

“I was told by my seniors, please do not go to that pagoda,” she said. “Some people said that breasts of women were cut off from their bodies and hung in that pagoda.”

Despite hopes that her hard work at the dam site would save her family, a visibly distressed Ms. Sovida explained how she returned to Kratie after three months to be informed that her parents and siblings had been executed.

The civil party said her sister was forced to strip and hand over her jewelry before being put on a truck and killed along with her parents.

“They forced her to remove the clothing, and then after they removed the first layer, she was put back into a truck and [they] dropped [those in the truck] off at Chrouy Ampil pagoda. Then they detained them there…. The executions lasted for three days,” she said.

Ms. Sovida ended her testimony by posing a number of questions to Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan, who are on trial for crimes against humanity in the second phase of Case 002.

“They kept saying that they did not know about what happened and that what happened was done by the lower cadre. Do you mean that you, who were at the upper level, did not have any authority at all during the regime? You did not control the country at all?” she asked.

Both men exercised their right to silence.

Hearings continue Wednesday.

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