CJA Files Appeal on Behalf of Cambodian Survivors of the Khmer Rouge Regime

Thousands of Cambodians, Including Many U.S. Citizens, Seek Justice for Crimes Committed by Four Former Leaders of Regime That Killed Over Two Million Cambodians

San Francisco, CA – Today, the Center for Justice and Accountability (CJA) filed an appeal with the United Nations-backed “Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia” (ECCC), the international tribunal that is hearing cases involving crimes committed by the Khmer Rouge regime against the civilian population from 1975-1979.  The appeal was filed on behalf of eleven U.S.-resident survivors of the Khmer Rouge regime whose applications to participate as Civil Parties in the upcoming trial against four senior leaders of the Khmer Rouge regime were recently denied by the court.  CJA represents a total of forty-one survivors in the case.  

“Thousands of Cambodian survivors, who were forced to watch Khmer Rouge troops kill their children spouses and entire families, are entitled to justice and their day in court,” said Pamela Merchant, Executive Director of the Center for Justice and Accountability.  “They live with those images and continue to suffer from severe psychological disorders as a result of the torture, starvation, and other egregious human rights crimes that they suffered under the Khmer Rouge regime."  

Professor Leakhena Nou, founder of the Applied Social Research Institute of Cambodia (“ASRIC”), which has partnered with CJA, added, “It has been 35 years since these horrific crimes took place, and many survivors are now aged.  But it is never too late for justice to be served.  Our clients are eager to hold those responsible accountable and to attain justice in their lifetimes.  By actively engaging in the judicial process, ASRIC’s survivors wish to symbolically move beyond the Khmer Rouge and continue their healing."

This week, the ECCC formally indicted four defendants, senior leaders of the regime that is responsible for roughly 2 million innocent deaths, one of the worst genocides in the 20th century.  In July 2010, in its first-ever ruling, the ECCC found Kaing Guek Eav (aka “Duch”), a former prison warden of the Khmer Rouge, guilty of crimes against humanity and war crimes.  He ran the infamous torture prison S-21 where he ordered the torture and killing of 14,000 Cambodians.  Mr. Eav, the first Khmer Rouge senior member to be tried and convicted for war crimes in Cambodia’s history, will serve 19 years in prison.

The survivors of the regime, many of whom are United States citizens, will not receive money from a court victory — they simply seek justice.  Approximately 157,500 Cambodians resettled in the U.S. from 1975-1994, the vast majority of them as refugees.  Many refugees suffer serious mental health problems after experiencing torture and witnessing killings of their family members and fellow citizens.

Background on the Case

➢    In 2007, an international tribunal formed by the Cambodian government and the United Nations, the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (“ECCC”) began hearing cases involving crimes committed by the Khmer Rouge regime during 1975-1979.

➢    The Khmer Rouge regime is responsible for the deaths of roughly two million innocent Cambodians between 1975-1979, during its attempt to build a communist “utopia” in Cambodia.

➢    The leader of the Khmer Rouge, Pol Pot, died in 1998.  Only the most senior officials of the regime are eligible to be tried in the tribunal.  

➢    In the second case that the tribunal will hear, there are four defendants:  Khieu Samphan, Nuon Chea (aka “Brother #2”), Ieng Sary, and Ieng Thirith.

➢    Founded by medical sociologist, Dr. Leakhena Nou, the Applied Social Research Institute of Cambodia (ASRIC) is a non-profit grass-roots organization committed to supporting the global Cambodian community post-genocide. ASRIC is dedicated to increasing the cultural, individual, and collective strengths of the Cambodian population through juridical education and justice-oriented initiatives.  ASRIC embraces the moral and juridical obligation to educate Cambodian/Americans about the ECCC. This mission gave rise to ASRIC’s Cambodian Diaspora Victims Participation Project (CDVPP).The CDVPP encouraged Cambodian genocide survivors to actively engage in the Tribunal proceedings as civil parties/witnesses for the ECCC.

➢    ASRIC and its partner, the Asian Pacific American Institute at New York University (APA), spent more than one year traveling the United States and holding CDVPP forums to discuss the ongoing impact of the Khmer Rouge regime on members of the Cambodian diaspora living in the United States.  They collected testimony from approximately two hundred people – the largest collection of such testimony in the U.S.  Professor David Kaye and the International Justice Clinic at UCLA, Alex Whiting of Harvard Law School, and Audrey Redmond were instrumental in helping ASRIC gather testimony and prepare Civil Party applications. 

ASRIC, APA and CJA are working together on behalf of the survivors in this case to ensure that members of the Cambodian diaspora living in the United States are represented in the ECCC proceedings and able to share and document their experiences.

➢    As of 2006, there were nearly 239,000 Cambodian-Americans in the United States.  The highest concentrations of Cambodians in the United States are in the following ten states: California (86,700), Massachusetts (22,106), Washington (13,055), Texas (11,646), Minnesota (7,790), Pennsylvania (6,787), Virginia (6,153), New York (5,720), Rhode Island (5,030), and Georgia (4,592). http://www.hmongstudies.com/SEA2006ACS.html.

CJA’s involvement in Cambodia reflects the organization’s commitment to bringing recognition to the survivors as the central piece of any legitimate justice process. From CJA’s international litigation work to specific support of national justice initiatives, CJA seeks to lend its expertise to societies, such as Cambodia, emerging from tragic periods of egregious human rights abuses.