Today marks the annual Day of Remembrance, when Cambodians commemorate the estimated 2 million people who died in the “killing fields” during the Khmer Rouge regime. In the past, this day was especially important – for decades, the country held no trial or public reckoning to acknowledge these crimes or punish those responsible. Cambodians used this occasion to publicly discuss the tortures they experienced and demand justice.
While the long-awaited genocide tribunal is finally underway, it has been plagued by a lack of funds and charges of corruption. The former Khmer Rouge leaders on trial are old and frail, and many fear they will die before giving a full accounting of their actions. Of the four on trial, one already has died and another has been declared mentally incompetent.
Many Cambodians still long for more information about why so many were killed and who was responsible for those deaths between 1975 and 1979. The Khmer Rouge regime was so secretive that its crimes have yet to be fully understood, and the identities of many involved remain unknown. A short history of the Khmer Rouge wasn’t included in Cambodian school textbooks until 2010 – more than 30 years after the fall of the regime.
In this excerpt from the Emmy-nominated “Enemies of the People,” journalist Thet Sambath embarks on a quest to track down the former killers for the Khmer Rouge to understand what happened and why. He spent 10 years gaining unprecedented access to the men and women who perpetrated the massacres. The journey is especially personal for Sambath, who lost most of his family to the Khmer Rouge.
“I do this work not just for my mother and brother and sister,” Sambath says, “I do it for all the people.”
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