Thouch Phandara remembers clearly the T-shirt her little boy was wearing when he succumbed to meningitis in the throes of the Khmer Rouge regime.
The 67-year-old civil party witness in the Khmer Rouge tribunal’s Case 002 took the stand Wednesday and said her husband, a doctor, had made the diagnosis.
As her son’s faded black-and-white picture was projected on a screen in the courtroom, Ms. Phandara broke down as she remembered the desperate attempts that were made to save his life.
“We tried to exchange jewels for penicillin, but no one had any,” she said. “He’d been wearing a yellow T-shirt and it had a slogan on it: ‘If I smile at you, will you smile at me?’
“When I saw that on his deathbed, I think any mother would understand the appalling emotion I went through,” Ms. Phandara said as she wept in court.
The photograph was one of two that Ms. Phandara, who now lives in Paris, managed to hold on to over the course of the regime—the other was of her beloved mother, to whom she dedicated her court appearance.
“I was very careful to hang on to these photographs,” she said. “I covered them in plastic and hid them underground.”
The loss of Ms. Phandara’s parents—who she said were thrown naked into a ditch—was “why I’m here to ask the court for justice.”
“[I’m here] to give the deceased back their souls so they may live in peace,” she said. “I know their souls are lost between the living and the dead, and if there is justice, that would be an honor to them. Not just for them, but for the 2 million other Cambodians who disappeared thanks to that Khmer Rouge regime.”
She said that to this day she has an obsession with food after having been deprived of it for so long during the regime.
Other harrowing testimony was given by Chan Socheat, 56, Huo Chantha, 60, and Chheng Eng Ly, 60. The latter told the court that during the evacuation of Phnom Penh, she came across a disturbing scene—a hungry baby crawling over the body of its dead mother.
Ms. Eng Ly’s maternal instinct made her want to take the baby with her, but she feared greatly for her safety. “All of a sudden, a soldier picked up the baby and they tore him apart—it was a very horrifying scene. I couldn’t imagine any human being would do that,” she said via video link from Paris, where she too now lives.
Both Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea responded to questions put to them throughout the day, though Nuon Chea declined to do so as the day drew on, citing exhaustion.
Both insisted it had not been Khmer Rouge policy to wipe out their countrymen, and that the main concern was to stave off an invasion by neighboring countries.
“We wanted our collective forces to unite in order to defend our country to avoid being invaded by neighboring countries…. So I’d like to take this opportunity to express sympathy to those who lost their lives…. Each and every one of us sacrificed personal happiness, we sacrificed for our nation,” Nuon Chea said.