Four decades since the Khmer Rouge regime collapsed, survivors continue to search for justice for the crimes of its leadership. Daze of Justice, a documentary that follows a group of survivors as they journey back to Cambodia to face two of the regime’s senior officials, on trial for their crimes at the Khmer Rouge Tribunal, was screened for the first time on US public television in March.
The film, produced by Michael Siv, himself a survivor, follows the group as they give testimony in Case 002 against Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea, the last two remaining senior regime leaders.
Siv told VOA Khmer the film was dedicated to exploring what justice means to survivors of the regime.
Since the tribunal first convened in 2006, few officials have been charged over their participation in genocide and crimes against humanity. As a result, the court has come under pressure for delaying proceedings and criticism for a perceived high cost-benefit ratio.
Marie Chea, one of the survivors featured in Daze of Justice, said they do not feel the court has provided justice, providing both hope and disappointment to survivors.
“Sometimes I agonize over it because the reason I went to Cambodia and the court was to seek justice for my family and relatives who lost their lives during the regime, but we could not get the justice we wanted and the truth remained hidden,” she said.
Henry Chorn, another survivor, said he remained pessimistic about the progress at the tribunal.
“I will continue to seek the truth because the court is assisted by the United Nations. So, I hope to call on the international community to participate and push this process forward,” he said.
Chea said the film hoped to show this frustration, to provide sympathy and solace to survivors.
“The film is intended to encourage survivors to speak up and share their grievances so that they can help each other recover,” he said.
In the film, the son of notorious prison chief Comrade Duch, Pheng, makes an appearance.
Sopharoth Ith, a Cambodian-American undergraduate student at the University of Portland in Oregon, said the inclusion of Pheng made the film unique.
“have seen many documentaries about the Khmer Rouge. Most of them only highlight the grievances of the victims while ignoring the suffering of the perpetrators’ family members who have also been mentally and physically affected because they live their lives facing hatred and bearing the responsibility.”
She added: “I think this shows another consequence that the Khmer Rouge caused.”
“The most interesting part of film is the relationship between Cambodian-American survivors and the fact that the group of survivors was able to separate Pheng from Duch’s wrongdoings. They did not discriminate against Pheng.”
Chea agreed it was important to consider all impacts of the atrocities.
“We say that we are affected by the Pol Pot massacre, but we see that Pheng, Duch’s son, also suffered. So, it is not just us, but the perpetrators’ families are also affected. The grievances and suffering cannot be redressed in any way; hence, we must learn to forgive.”
Hope for Justice
Forgiveness is one thing, but justice is another. Although Pheng showed sympathy, acknowledged the crimes committed by the Khmer Rouge and apologized before the survivors on behalf of his father, the demand for justice and truth remains strong.
Chea told VOA Khmer that the perpetrators themselves must be held accountable for their crimes and they must apologize.
“I understand Pheng’s situation and appreciate that he decided to apologize. I would accept his apology, but I may not forgive Duch. I think what Cambodians and I want the most is a sincere apology from all Khmer Rouge leaders because I haven’t seen a statement of apology from any of them”.
In 2017, judges in Case 002 found that Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan were guilty of crimes against humanity and sentenced to life imprisonment.
The tribunal is now proceeding with Case 003 against Meas Muth and Case 004 against Ao An, Im Chaem and Yim Tith.