Born in 1952, Marie Chea was one of many victims of the Khmer Rouge whose lives were disrupted just when they were on the verge of adulthood. Marie was a married student in Phnom Penh when, on April 17, 1975, the Khmer Rouge forced her to various work sites elsewhere in Cambodia. There, she was subjected to forced labor, starvation rations, torture, and daily threats of being killed by the Khmer Rouge. Marie’s family—like so many others—was completely destroyed by the Khmer Rouge, losing not only her mother and father, but also all but one of her eight siblings. Of Marie’s birth family of 11, only Marie and one brother escaped death under the Khmer Rouge; 25 relatives in the extended family were killed. To this day, Marie is haunted by memories of the genocide, such as the day in a work camp when she was very ill but sent out to work in the paddy field regardless. She collapsed, remaining there until someone picked her up, many hours later. When she came to, she was told she was at Wat Thla (an execution site). While there, she witnessed countless executions, patients losing consciousness after taking “medicine,” and bodies being removed. Marie returned to Phnom Penh after the genocide, hoping in vain to be reunited with her family. She participates in the ECCC because she seeks justice and more information about who was behind the killers who followed their orders and decimated her family.
In 1975, when the Khmer Rouge invaded Phnom Penh, Mrs. Sophany Bay and her three young children were forced to leave their home and march for four days through rough jungle to a labor camp. The children’s father and Sophany’s husband, Sarit, was an anti-Communist military officer temporarily living in the United States for professional training. All three of their children died in the genocide. Sophany eventually escaped to a refugee camp in Thailand, having lost not only her children but also all contact with her husband. Sarit continued to search for news of his wife, eventually learning that other refugees had seen her alive at Khao I Dang refugee camp in 1983. Sarit and Sophany were ultimately reunited and now live in the United States. The Bays, like so many other Cambodians, have waited more than three decades for justice. Sophany filed her testimony with the ECCC because, in her words, “I want justice for all the victims, for those who died, and for ALL Cambodians. I want real justice, not a fake one, [and] a transparent process for justice.”
Just prior to the Khmer Rouge seizing control in 1975, Sarem Neou had traveled to France for a year of academic study, reluctantly leaving her husband their two small children in Cambodia. Concerned for their safety and wishing to be reunited with them, Sarem risked returning to Cambodia during the regime’s control. The Khmer Rouge detained Sarem in a camp for returned foreigners for the remaining years of their rule. The reunion Sarem dreamed of never happened; the Khmer Rouge was directly or indirectly responsible for the deaths not only of her husband and their two young daughters, but also her parents, siblings, and multiple other family members. After the genocide, Sarem relocated to the United States, where she still lives. Sarem chose to participate in the ECCC as a way to honor, rather than ignore, her lost loved ones and other victims of the Khmer Rouge. In her words, “As a survivorand human being, I have a responsibility to find justice for the dead. By not filing [my testimony], I am ignoring the dead, including that of my own family members; I want to speak out for the dead. I want to find out the truth, and why Cambodians killed Cambodians. Why? […] Who ordered the killings, and why [were] innocent babies like my children killed? Cambodians cannot heal and move on with their lives without knowing the truth.”
Leakhena Nou, PhD, is a medical sociologist and and associate professor of sociology at California State University, Long Beach. She holds a PhD and MA in sociology (University of Hawaii at Manoa), an MSW (Columbia University), and a BA in sociology (California State University, Fullerton).
Firmly committed to applied research and activism benefitting Cambodian genocide survivors, Dr. Nou’s primary research interests are the epidemiology of social stress and health/illness, political sociology, and human rights, particularly issues of health and mental health and the long-term impacts of stress and trauma among Cambodian survivors of the Khmer Rouge genocide (1975-79). She is also the founder and executive director of the Applied Social Research Institute of Cambodia (ASRIC). Through ASRIC, Dr. Nou has been instrumental in educating survivors of the genocide about their participatory rights in the Extraordinary Chambers of the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), where accused Khmer Rouge leaders are being tried for crimes against humanity; in assisting survivors in filing testimonial statements with the court; and in accompanying witnesses to Phnom Penh, Cambodia, to testify.
Dr. Nou’s research investigates the stress process as it affects first- and second-generation survivors of the Khmer Rouge genocide. Her work focuses on the roles of traumatic events and “daily hassles” in predicting the psychosocial wellbeing of Cambodian adult refugees and the post-Khmer Rouge generation, as well as on issues of ambivalence, restorative justice, reconciliation, reparation, and healing. Additional projects include writing a book on reparative justice for Vanderbilt Press and planning a “memory project” in collaboration with Dr. Marcelo Falcon and others at the Faculties of Medicine and Medical Ethics, Sorbonne University, Paris, to honor survivors. She is actively involved with the Group on International Perspectives on Governmental Aggression and Peace (GIPGAP) at Boston University, where she works closely with psychology professor Dr. Kathleen Malley-Morrison.