Peace, Justice and Reconciliation for Cambodian Immigrants







by Pheng Pong-Rasy, Documentation Center of Cambodia



“Without any expectations, I have become myself from a former victim of the Democratic Kampuchea Regime to a person who is carrying out the work of the Documentation Center of Cambodia (DC-Cam) which is searching for the truth, justice and reconciliation for Cambodian people around the country. I had a very good opportunity to attend the workshop at the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, University of Sydney. I have an ambition to build peace, truth, justice and reconciliation for the Cambodian community in Sydney. How many Cambodian immigrants in Sydney have knowledge about the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) known as the Khmer Rouge Tribunal? And did they receive peace, justice, truth and reconciliation from what had happened to them during the Khmer Rouge regime?”


Cambodian immigrants should answer these questions and clarify the kinds of justice, truth, peace and reconciliation they want. I met some Cambodian immigrants in the community in Sydney, Chhayri Marm, Ben Nhem, Pisey and Chheng. Two of them have very good knowledge of the process of the Khmer Rouge Tribunal. One knows very little, and another one does not know what is happening with the Tribunal. This is the same situation for the people in Cambodia. But what is different is that people in Cambodia have the opportunity to understand all the processes of the Khmer Rouge Tribunal through radio, television, newspapers, magazines and some organizations which are conducting outreach throughout the country. Also, the younger generation will learn about the Khmer Rouge regime through their public curriculum in school in the forthcoming years.


For the Sydney community, I brought some of DC-Cam’s “Searching for the Truth” magazines. Chhayri Marm, a migrant consultant, told me after dinner at his house that almost all immigrants who had hardship experiences of the Khmer Rouge regime still remember their experiences such as overwork, starvation and torture. “For me, I will never forget what had happened to me and to the Khmer people during the Khmer Rouge regime, and I strongly believe that the truths and justice will be revealed but this only when the tribunal can proceed freely and faster. I am concerned about the current obstacles that this tribunal is facing. However, I hope that the international communities, like Australia, will continue to support and help to ensure there is no political interference. I applaud and thanks to the outstanding works done by the DC-Cam and of course, I support the national reconciliation ideas”. Chhayri, one of the immigrants who understands a lot about the tribunal, related this to me.


Some Cambodian immigrants have lost their parents, their neighbours and their property. Nearly 30 years after the Khmer Rouge regime, what did they get back? Did they have any reparation from the Khmer Rouge regime? Indeed, they got nothing from the regime. Moreover, they remain feeling traumatized without any relief. Ben Nhem (a given name while he came to live in Australia; his Khmer name is Buntha) lost his parents during the Khmer Rouge regime. He was so young during that time. His traumatized feeling always stays with him and even until the present time. Traveling with him in Australia, he told me much of his story including his imprisonment with his parents in Wat Samrong Khnong in Battambang province (this site was investigated by DC-Cam’s Mapping team in 1997). “I have tried to live without parents and struggled to venture to Australia since 1983”. Buntha continued “My life is now okay. I have a good job to do in Australia. I have money to improve my life. However, I still need justice and reconciliation from the Khmer Rouge Tribunal. I don’t want the tribunal to give me my parents’ life back, but I need the tribunal to give back a pure truth, justice and reconciliation to all Cambodian people.”


Almost all older immigrants in Sydney regularly go to the pagoda to pray, not only for their safe life at the present and future, but also for their ancestors and relatives’ souls who were killed under the Khmer Rouge regime. Many years ago while having the Khmer traditional ceremonies, I was sometimes told by my mother to pray for my uncles, brother or other relatives’ souls to have good, bright life in the next life. But I was not told about what had happened to them before they passed away. I note that many Cambodian people always keep silent about what had happened to their families because they think that the problems in the past could affect the present younger generation. It is very wrong to hide the truth about the atrocities perpetrated in the past. In order to build peace, to find justice and reconciliation for people who experienced these unthinkable horrors and to connect what had happened in the past, the younger generation should have the opportunity to understand all such problems and find a way to prevent these activities in the future.


I was invited to attend a course on transitional justice and peacebuilding at the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies in July 2009 at University of Sydney. I understood much of what had happened in many countries such as South Africa, Rwanda, East Timor, Sierra Leone and other post-conflict countries. The main purpose of the workshop was to exchange ideas of conflict and resolution that had occurred in each country. I shared my experience as a victim of the Khmer Rouge regime and my work at the Documentation Center of Cambodia which is to build truth, peace and reconciliation for the Cambodian people. In my presentation, I raised the issue of my current work, Genocide Education Project, to the workshop because this project is very important for building peace and reconciliation for all Cambodian people, especially for the younger generation. I was asked a lot of questions relating to the project.


Finally, I would like to share what I have learnt about peace and justice in many countries at the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies of University of Sydney to people who I think should know and understand, especially for Cambodian immigrants in Sydney. I really want to provide them with the knowledge of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) and help them to understand how to build peace, truth, justice and reconciliation in Cambodia and other countries.


I would like to say thank you to Dr Wendy Lambourne who always encouraged and gave me opportunities to raise more of my experiences in the workshop.