Thursday, February 19, 2009

Is it time up for the Khmer Rouge? [-Theary Seng's account]

A cell in Phnom Penh's infamous Tuol Sleng or S-21 prison. Photo by Tristan Clements.
These photos were taken by blogger Tristan Clements, who visited the former Tuol Sleng prison, now a memorial museum, in January
Barbed wire was put in place to prevent prisoners from killing themselves.

The Observers

After thirty years of waiting, the Cambodian people are finally facing their brutal past under the murderous Khmer Rouge regime. While the country's youth are happy to forget this dark period, those who lived through the genocide are eager to see it revisited. One of them, who was seven years old when she was jailed and orphaned, tells us why the tribunal will help modern Cambodia.

Although leader Pol Pot died untried in 1998, his chief torturer Kaing Guek Eav, better known as "Comrade Duch", was the first of the regime's remaining leaders to face trial in Phnom Pehn on Tuesday. The Khmer Rouge killed up to two million Cambodians when they took power of the country in 1975 and forced the country's middle classes into labour camps. Yet since they were toppled by Vietnamese forces in 1979, none of the oppressors have been tried for war crimes.
"There are many regional, national and political interests at stake that are more powerful than the court"
Theary Seng is director of the Cambodian Center for Social Development. She escaped Cambodia and fled to the US in 1979 after both her parents were killed by the Khmer Rouge. Today she lives in Phnom Pehn.

"I was four years old and living with my family in the capital when the Khmer Rouge came. They told us that the US was going to bomb the city and that we had to evacuate to the countryside for three days. We left, along with all the other city dwellers. But of course it wasn't three days; it was four years. Before that my mum was a successful business woman and my father was a teacher and then a military commander. They [the Khmer Rouge] didn't like us because we were educated and therefore ‘tainted' by western values.

When we got to the country everybody became slaves. We worked and ate communally. My parents were working in the rice fields. As a child, I had to work with other children transporting palm leaves in order to make hash houses [drinking houses]. We were fortunate to a degree because we were living with relatives who already lived in the countryside, in the Svay Rieng province near Vietnam. But in the end, being in that area cost my parents' lives. The regime became paranoid that those living in the east had been infiltrated by the Vietnamese. We were put in prison for the last five months of the regime. In that time my dad ‘disappeared' and my mum was killed. I never actually received confirmation of my dad's death, but under the circumstances it's pretty certain. I was with my mum in prison; she was shackled to the wall. I was too small to be shackled, because my ankles were so slight.

I never saw my childhood home again. It's owned by somebody else now. The current capital laws don't recognise ownership before 1975. I did go back to Phnom Penh after the regime was brought down in 1979, but after a year, we felt that the situation was still unstable, so we decided to escape. We took a truck back to the east, and then walked across the border. I was with about 30 relatives and close friends. The crossing was laden with mines and robbers. It wasn't until eight years ago that I returned to Cambodia permanently.

We Cambodians are imprisoned in our past; haunted by these memories, which remain today and seep out in violence and human rights abuses. This tribunal offers the possibility of improved accountability and an end to impunity. We might appear to have peace, but it's just the absence of war. I don't have real peace in my heart. To see that the collective international community care about our dead brings a degree of satisfaction, of healing. But the case must be legitimate. If it's a sham, it will be yet another slap in the face for us.

There are many regional, national and political interests at stake that are more powerful than the court. For example regionally, China, who supported the Khmer Rouge regime, doesn't want to be reminded of its dirty past. Beijing has expressly threatened to veto the tribunal, which is why it doesn't have the blessing of the UN Security Council. On a political front, the current Cambodian government comprises former Khmer Rouge members. Then you have Vietnam, who wants to be known as the great liberator - but it was liberation by invasion.

And while we know that the course of justice takes time, we're suspicious that some of the delays are unnecessary. Because of old age some of the leaders might die before or during the trial, which would be extremely disappointing after the millions of dollars that have been spent on setting it up. I also believe that others should be tried, not only the current six."
About Theary Seng
Theary Seng (Photo:

Executive Director of the Center for Social Development (CSD), a local human rights organization based in Phnom Penh.

Born in Phnom Penh in early 1971. Under the Khmer Rouge, lived in Svay Rieng province bordering Vietnam, where the killings were most intense.

The Khmer Rouge killed both parents. Emigrated to the United States one year later.

Since 1995, been in Cambodia volunteering with various labor and human rights groups. In January 2004, moved permanently to live and work in country of birth. Of choice, home is now again Cambodia.

Graduated from Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service (Washington, DC) with a Bachelor of Science in International Politics in 1995 and from the University of Michigan Law School with a Juris Doctor in 2000. Member of the New York Bar Association and American Bar Association, and awaiting membership to the Cambodian Bar Association.

Author of "Daughter of the Killing Fields", first published in London in September 2005.

City : Phnom Penh
Country : Cambodia
Languages : Khmer, English
Date of birth :
Profession : Social development worker
Blog or Web site : Center for Social Development
Interests : Cambodia, human rights, international relations, justice, Khmer Rouge, law, politics, United States


Anonymous said...

Theary and her surviving siblings are my area where we lived during the KR.....they took the whole family not just the parents....her father had connection with the previous regime and yet some members survived I consider this very very our area it would mean 100% finish every single one in the family.

Anonymous said...

She is HOT!!

Anonymous said...

Hold your horse there 5:52 AM! Be careful, she might just sue your pants off if you don't behave, okay? BTW, keep your pants on 5:52AM...(j/k).


Anonymous said...

Oh my, my, Theary, Theary, so pittyfull. Only the current Cambodian government, China and Veitnam but no US, why? Do you think just these two involved?

We take a truck to East blah, blah, blah....China threatened to veto the tribunal.......we were educated and therefore ‘tainted' by western was liberation by invasion.....Come on Theary who truck did you take, were you educated at age 4? Did you understand/tainted then the western values? Was it because invasion that why you were liberated? You speak Khmer like a westerner who just recovered from a stroke.

Anonymous said...

And you at 7:33 AM, you write English worse than and 2nd grade school kid...No one can understand a damn thing you said...Damn!

Anonymous said...

Yes, 8:08am no one can understand a damn thing I said. Only lied that you can understand because you are born from the lier family and your brain is fixed on Theary ass. Has you seen the way she speak khmer?

The opportunist seeks fame.

Anonymous said...



Anonymous said...

Theary Seng,

I have nothing against you but one thing I want to know, why are you such a pathetic swindler? All the things you did were only for your own benefit. Why are you trying to copycat and pretend to be somebody else other than yourself? Ok, if you strive to follow a good example and do good deeds genuinely, that’s really fine, but don’t ever bullshit people again because the public is not as stupid as you think. We all know what you are trying to do…

Girls, you ain’t real at all. We didn’t necessarily get what we see in you. If you were a true achiever like the authentic ones, then I would salute you. If you are nothing but a scheme – there are lots of frauds and corruption in NGO’s as well, then can’t help you because one day it will backfire on you. This is just a friendly reminder… So, just be yourself no matter how untrue the facts (personal achievements) are.

Theary, that’s not easy of course to opt for the path of high merit, but you can do it without misleading people, girl. If you needed any help, just give me a shout and I will be there for you.

You know who I’m
Khmer US

Anonymous said...

Shut the fuck up Khmer US!

If you try to insult a woman like Theary Seng, it's like you are insultind the rest of the Cambodians women here in Cambodia and in Overseas too. Especially those fromoverseas because there are more than just Theary... They can be from all over the world: US, Canada, Australia, Cambodia, France, Japan, China, England, etc.

I'm certain that if that young Cambodian-Canadian heard or saw what you have written, she would shower you with Hindi blessings for insulting her good fellow khmer like Theary. All I know that she is so proud about Ms. Theary Seng accomplishments because she can be her pal and march forward to fight for change and hope to bring peace to Cambodia one day. She told me she admire strong will woman like Theary.

May God Budha bless people of Cambodia both men and women.


Anonymous said...

Hey Amen,

Which Cambodian-Canadian young woman are you talking about? According to your saying, I think I know who you are refering to. Is she Khmer? I don't think so! According to her name (got it from forwarded emails from SRP), it sounds like she is 1/2 Khmer 1/4 Hindu and 1/4 Chinese. I knew that she's been to Cambodia, China(especailly Taiwan and Hong Kong), India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand... All the countries where people do look like Indians except China and Thailand. I saw her wedding pics posted by her photographer on the net I think. She obviously looks like another "bitch" to me. Is she another Ms. Theary Seng? If so, I think she is WORST than Ms. T. Seng!!!

Anonymous said...

Hi! My name is Kanika, a daughter of CPP general. I was studying in the US for a long time ago. I’m now back to my country, Cambodia. I hope you will sympathize with me.

I had to jump right after I saw people talked bad things about our dear Canadian friend. This is my testimonial letter to support my GOOD FRIEND that I can’t identify her (privacy purpose) about how people disrespect her after she has tried so hard to alleviate the suffering of most Cambodians and STILL AIMS FOR PEACE.

Why are you so crude to someone as cosmopolitan as the one in Canada? I don't know her much but she seemed to be more indisputable and well-brought-up than Theary. I saw Theary as many times and knowing her very well so that I could tell the difference between the two. One is very soft-spoken, very humble and intellectual; the other like Theary is conceited, arrogant, pretentious, and uncouth. The contrast is like the Ying and the Yang.

As far as I’m concerned the Canadian-Cambodian is as clean and as pure as milk – this my personal thoughts. She never wanted to side with bad people or make friends with those “spoiled” generals children even though she was invited to their weddings (including our PM Hun Sen and Mr. Sok An children’s wedding) a thousands time. I know because I'm one of the luckiest daughters of the richest generals in Cambodia. She came to my wedding and I was very grateful and I'm still thankful until today to have someone as highly regards as her to be there for my most special day, the wedding. SHE HAS SOFT HEART BUT NOT SOFT HEAD like Theary. We were trying to convince her several times to work for us (CPP) but she always refused. In fact, she refuses to ANYTHING that doesn’t seem right to her. There was one time my father wanted to promote her to the rank as high as Health Minister of Cambodia but there again she rejected the offer with such WILFULNESS. Because of that we decided to let her go without wanting to harass and/or harm her in any circumstances. I’m sure Theary –the-Opportunist would jump for that as fast as the lightening. Sometimes I wanted to slap my GOOD FRIEND in the face for being disobedient and MOSTLY for criticizing the way we rule Cambodia. Because of her high integrity and compassion, we bow to her will. This is how I feel for my fellow Canadian friend and I’m proud to be her acquaintance (hope she is happy to be my friend too).

Thank you for taking the time to read and to understand the real nature of the Ying and the Yang .

The Daughter of a CPP
who is PROUD to have such A GOOD FRIEND.

Anonymous said...

If you voted for CPP (Cambodian People's Party):

Also known as:

Communist People's Party
Khmer Rouge People's Party
Khmer Krorhorm People's Party

You're support the killing of 1.7 million innocent Khmer peoples.

You're support the killing of innocent men, women and children in Cambodia on March 30, 1997.

You're support murder of Piseth Pilika.

You're support assassination of journalists in Cambodia.

You're support political assassination and killing.

You're support attemted assassination and murder of leader of the free trade union in Cambodia.

You're support corruption in Cambodia.

You're support Hun Sen Regime burn poor people's house down to the ground and leave them homeless.

These are the Trade Mark of Hun Sen Regime.

Hun Sen, Chea Sim and Heng Samrin are Khmer Rouge commanders.
When is the ECCC going to bring these three criminals to U.N. Khmer Rouge Trail?

Khmer Rouge Regime is a genocide organization.

Hun Sen Regime is a terrorist organization.
Hun Sen Bodyguards is a terrorist organization.
Hun Sen Death Squad is a terrorist organization.
Cambodian People's Party is a terrorist organization.

I have declare the current Cambodian government which is lead by the Cambodian People's Party as a terrorist organization.

Whoever associate with the current Cambodian government are associate with a terrorist organization.