Statements will form part of evidence against Khmer Rouge leaders.
By Greg Mellen, Staff writer
LONG BEACH — A year-and-a-half ago when refugee survivors of the Khmer Rouge regime gathered in Long Beach to fill out forms about atrocities they witnessed in the mid-'70 s in Cambodia, they had no idea whether it would make a difference.
On Saturday, many of them got their answer. Leakhena Nou, a sociology professor at Cal State Long Beach told a gathering that their statements would be part of an upcoming trial against four former leaders of the Khmer Rouge.
"We wanted to make sure your voices are heard thousands of miles away," Nou told the elderly crowd that assembled at the Mark Twain Branch Library.
"Your applications have been heard and have been accepted by the court," Nou said. "You are heroes."
In 2009, Nou and her nonprofit group, Applied Social Research Institute of Cambodia traversed the U.S. Gathering victim statements from refugees in the Cambodian diaspora with the goal of having them entered as evidence in the upcoming Khmer Rouge tribunal in Cambodia.
She has since learned that 170 of the applications she gathered nationwide were accepted to be used in the trial.
More than 35 years after the Khmer Rouge rise to power and the onset of the Killing Fields genocide that left about 2 million dead, Noun Chea, Pol Pot's second in command, and three other top officials in the communist government that ruled until Jan. 1979, are being tried for a number of war crimes under the auspices of the Extraordinary Chambers of the Courts of Cambodia.
On Saturday, Nou, along with lawyers from the Center for Justice and Accountability, which will represent refugee complainants in the proceedings, met with Long Beach residents to update them on the results of the statements filings and to talk about what's next.
The event was entitled From Victim to Witness: In Pursuit of Justice and Healing.
"Today the power is in your hands and the world is listening," Nou said. "You were witnesses to some of the worst crimes in mankind."
Nou said she hopes the trials will bring closure to those who suffered during the Khmer Rouge reign and since. She said justice can't be gained through violence, hatred or anger, but justice and education of the young about what happened.
"Your weapon was this," Nou said, holding up a pen.
Nou also asked those in attendance to sign a petition demanding the tribunal continue. The court is currently considering its second case.
Earlier Kaing Guek Eav, or Duch, the former head of the Tuol Sleng interrogation prison, was found guilty. The court is considering charges against five more suspects, however, Prime Minister Hun Sen has opposed any more trials.
As part of the ongoing legal proceedings, the court could offer non-monetary reparations to the complainants. Although they cannot receive cash, attorney Nushin Sarkarati said their could be symbolic reparations. These could range from the creation of stupas or museums, to a holiday in Cambodia to commemorate the dead to building a medical center that offers treatment to survivors for lingering health issues from the Khmer Rouge era.
After the presentation to the elders, volunteers gathered with the survivors to discuss their ideas of appropriate reparations.