JUSTICE IS NOT ABOUT GETTING REVENGE
When the Cambodian
civil war was at its peak in the early 1970s, I did not have any idea about why
people were fighting each other because I was only about six years old. By the
time the war had come to an end in 1975, I was able to understand some of the
reasons behind it. I remember seeing the Khmer Rouge soldiers standing in front
of my home, making an announcement through a bullhorn encouraging people to
leave their homes and move away before the Americans started bombing. I also
remember my father being hit by shrapnel just above his elbow. Since all
hospitals were closed, some of my relatives had to apply first-aid to his wound.
Like many people
living in Phnom Penh, our family was forced out of the city. On the way out of
the city, I can remember seeing hundreds of corpses floating in the river,
mainly soldiers in camouflage. While wounded, my father directed his family to
head to his home village in Takeo province. After the Communists won the war,
some knew that the Khmer Rouge would not forgive those who fought against them,
and that hiding their identities was the best way to escape execution.
When my family had
finally reached my father’s home village, we suddenly found ourselves on a Khmer
Rouge hit list due to my father’s previous occupation as a police officer. Even
though he was a poor policeman, he was still on their list. My father tried very
hard not to expose his identity. As
more and more people moved into the village, Angkar (Higher Organization) had
asked people to volunteer for relocation. After hearing the announcement, my
father had signed up. He hoped that by moving away from a familiar territory, he
could completely hide his identity, and therefore, escape death. To me, that was
a very smart move!
I remember very
well when we were on the train heading toward Battambang. I was very hungry and
my mother had to do what she could to find something for me to eat. When we
finally reached our destination of Mong, Battambang, food was very scarce. Both
of my parents had traded gold and US dollars for food from the local people.
Life was very hard
in our district. The Khmer Rouge forced all adults and teenagers to work in the
fields every day, rain or shine. People died every day of starvation or were
executed. I was fortunate not to be put to work because of my age and
sickliness. My father, especially, worked very hard with very little to eat.
When he had food, he did what he could to save it for his children. From what I
can remember about my father, he was a decent person.
Early one morning,
my father left home to catch fish in the stream. Two Khmer Rouge soldiers saw
him and asked him to come out of the water. They questioned him and tied him
with a rope. He was left there alone for hours. When the local people found out
about him, they immediately rushed home to tell my mother. She was able to get
help from the neighbors to bring my father home. The events of that morning had
struck with my father forever, and he was traumatized by them. He began to have
nightmares and we could see death in his eyes. He became every sick. As our
conditions worsened, my mother sacrificed all her belongings to keep my father
alive by trading for food and medicines.
Most men living in the village were killed. My father knew that it was
just a matter of time before his turn would come.
One night, while
everyone was sleeping, he quietly passed away. Everyone in our family had their
heads shaved to honor my father’s soul. His body was laid on the floor of our
home for three days before my mother was able to find people to carry him to the
field for burial. Most people were too weak and too afraid to come and help.
While my father
was able to escape execution by the Khmer Rouge soldiers, he could not escape
his ordeal. My father’s death completely changed the life of my family. My
mother could not function properly for a couple of years and my brother, sister,
and I had to do the best we could to survive.
Currently, we live
in the United States. Although I make a comfortable living here, I still miss my
father and wish there had been a better way and time for him to die. Even though
no one in our family is able to remember his burial site, I know in my heart
that my father did not die in vain.
Cambodians, I am in favor of bringing the Khmer Rouge to trial. I am asking for
justice, but justice does not mean getting revenge. After all, if the current
Cambodian government is strongly committed to bring a democratic process to the
country, serving justice is very
important. Equally important is for people to understand that they will
face consequences should they choose to commit criminal acts. Once justice is
served, my father and millions of other dead Cambodians will forever rest in