Ly Sukei’s father was a well-educated Cambodian Muslim who died at the hands of the Khmer Rouge in 1975.
Now Ly Sukei is one of 228 Chams filing as civil parties at the Khmer Rouge tribunal, as the UN-backed court prepares to try at least four jailed leaders of the regime for genocide and other atrocity crimes.
“I filed a complaint to find justice for my father,” Ly Sukei told VOA Khmer at his home in Kampong Cham province, where many Chams lived and died under the Khmer Rouge.
He remembered the day soldiers came looking for his father, Sann Math Ly, in the village of Svay Klaing in Krouch Chhmar district.
Sann Math Ly was a villager leader, well known, and he was unhappy with the Khmer Rouge and their treatment of the Chams.
By 1975, the Khmer Rouge were shuttering mosques and forcing Muslims to cut their hair, burn their Qurans and eat pork. They were not allowed to prayer or wear head-coverings. Anyone who refused was the target of arrest.
“A group of around 20 armed Khmer Rouge cadre surrounded my house, and one of them ordered me in the Cham language: ‘You, go call upon your father,’” Ly Sukei said.
As his father left the house and walked toward the waiting soldiers, he made a sign behind his back telling his son to go home and not follow. Ly Sukei, who is now 44, never saw his father again.
Sann Math Ly became one of an estimated 500,000 Chams killed under the Khmer Rouge. Tribunal judges are now trying to determine whether such killings can be prosecuted as genocide.
Ly Sukei has been haunted by that day and has frequently followed the tribunal process by TV and radio. He wants to know what happened to his father.
“He was killed without any reasons, so I cannot do nothing,” Ly Sukei said. “I must allow him to rest in peace.”
Now a father of five, Ly Sukei has tried to find out more about Sann Math Ly and even searched for his photograph among those hung at the Tuol Sleng torture museum. He found nothing there and expects to find little else.
Still, he attended the tribunal proceedings last year against Kaing Kek Iev, or Duch, who underwent a trial for atrocity crimes committed at Tuol Sleng when it was a torture center for the Khmer Rouge. Ly Sukei said he has faith the tribunal can at least help him.
“I just want one word from the tribunal: that’s ‘justice,’” he said. “For those killed, including my father.”