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In San Jose, Talk of Atrocity Reparations

A portrait displayed at Tuol Sleng prison, depicting how the prisoners were tortured and killed.
A portrait displayed at Tuol Sleng prison, depicting how the prisoners were tortured and killed.

Sophany Bay had her last look at her daughter’s corpse some 35 years ago. Her child died under the Khmer Rouge and was being taken away for burial in a shallow grave in Takeo province.

Now an American, Sophany Bay is filing as a complainant in the upcoming Khmer Rouge tribunal for four regime leaders. She says she wants to have a monument erected, one where she can keep a photograph of her youngest daughter and where she might engrave the names of her two other children lost to the regime.

Sophany Bay is among 41 Cambodians in the US who are filing as civil parties with the UN-backed court, which expects to hold a trial in Phnom Penh later this year for leaders Nuon Chea, Khieu Samphan, Ieng Sary and Ieng Thirith.

She met with some 50 other Cambodian-Americans in San Jose, Calif., this weekend to discuss possible reparations the court might undertake to help assuage the trauma of the Khmer Rouge period.

“My filing the complaint to the Khmer Rouge tribunal is for nothing but justice,” she told VOA Khmer in an interview. “I want real and clear justice, not a fake one, like that of a show trial. I want justice for my three children, who died unfairly.”

Nou Leakhena, executive director of the Applied Social Research Institute, who helped organize Saturday’s meeting, said the goal is to “seek a common understanding from victims before we present a [reparation] request to the court.”

“If the court does not recognize what they ask for, we will still go ahead with what the survivors want because we see this as a crucial step for their mental healing,” she said.

Nou Leakhena is organizing a series of similar meetings in collaboration with the Center for Justice and Accountability. The forums are a way to update Khmer Rouge survivors on the progress of the tribunal as well as to find an agreement on reparations.

“We are hoping to really gather as much information as we can,” said Andrea Evans, the center’s legal director. “Then we’re going to go to other communities around the United States also and really gather as much as we can so that when we go to court we are in a better position to advocate for what the communities want from here.”

At Saturday’s meeting, at a San Jose pagoda, some who gathered brought photographs of loved ones who perished under the Khmer Rouge. For a few, the painful memories of that time remain fresh, and they burst into tears as they remembered the lost.