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Return to the killing fields


Theary Seng and her family were held in this pagoda in Champa, an impromptu detention centre, 40 years ago. (All  Photographs: Antoine Raab; Getty)


One woman’s quest to find the truth about her parents’ death under Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge regime

Michael Peel / Financial Times | 15 May 2015

The skulls are piled neatly behind glass now, targeted by cameras rather than guns or clubs. Candles burn on the steps of this mausoleum, whose spire tapers towards the morning sun. Beyond its walls life goes on, and not always reverentially. A pair of men stroll over former mass graves where fragments of bone still sometimes surface, especially after the monsoon rains. Two cheerful young tourists take a snap next to a billboard that shows how thousands of people were once trucked to die in a place where children’s heads were beaten against what is now known as the “killing tree”.

Forty years ago almost to the hour of my visit, a horror began that for many thousands of people ended here at Choeung Ek, an extermination camp on the outskirts of Phnom Penh in Cambodia. On April 17 1975, the Khmer Rouge took over the capital and began to evacuate its residents and those of other big cities. It was the start of a campaign of enslavement and mass slaughter that was to claim the lives of at least 1.8 million people, about a quarter of the country’s population. Now, in the grounds of this killing field, survivors of the near four-year terror are taking the microphone at a small commemoration. Orange-robed monks sit to the right, while visitors crouch and kneel to the left. A 70-year-old woman named Chan Kim Sour is in tears as she tells how her family was killed. “I am very depressed,” she sobs. “Please find justice for me.”

Among those listening is Theary Seng, whose parents were killed by the Khmer Rouge. She is visibly moved by the ceremony, which ends with the monks collecting bags full of food and money. Yet, for all the solemnity, Theary Seng thinks there is something missing. “This is not a place of hope,” she says, as the crowds disperse. “It’s a place that drums in the past, but it needs to do more. There’s no redemption in the way we commemorate.”

It is a reminder of what an open wound the Khmer Rouge years still are in Cambodia — and how much of a reckoning remains. It is now more than 30 years since the release of the film The Killing Fields, which told of the survival of Dith Pran, the Cambodian colleague of the New York Times journalist Sydney Schanberg. The events still whisper in the hearts of those then involved in the proxy wars of Southeast Asia. In Cambodia, a US bombing campaign in the late 1960s and early 1970s killed 150,000 to 500,000 people, in a vain attempt to stop supply routes to the North Vietnamese army. John Gunther Dean, the 89-year-old former US ambassador who oversaw the US evacuation from Phnom Penh just before the Khmer Rouge arrived, has deplored how Washington “abandoned Cambodia and handed it over to the butcher”.

“We’d accepted responsibility for Cambodia and then walked out without fulfilling our promise. That’s the worst thing a country can do,” he said in an interview with the Associated Press shortly before the anniversary. “And I cried because I knew what was going to happen.”

Theary Seng is taking me on the journey she and her family made during those terrible days. A little girl of four when the Khmer Rouge arrived, she left Cambodia for the US the year after Vietnam toppled Pol Pot’s regime in 1979. She grew up in Michigan and California, trained as a lawyer, returning to Cambodia periodically from 1995 to work. She came to live here in 2004, working as lawyer, activist — and investigator of her personal history. Theary Seng runs a civic education group and headed an NGO called the Centre for Social Development before leaving in acrimonious circumstances in 2009. She had a high public profile some years ago but has since pulled back after becoming “completely exhausted” talking about the past.


Theary Seng meets Van Sovy, caretaker at a pagoda where the Seng family was detained 40 years ago

The accounting for the Khmer Rouge era is still sparse in a country that, for all its foreign factory investment and urban elite trappings, is among the poorest in its region. It never had the kind of broad-ranging truth and reconciliation commission with which South Africa tried to deal with the legacy of apartheid. Nor was there ever a full sense of regime change. Hun Sen, the prime minister of 30 years, is a former Khmer Rouge commander who defected. He now presents himself as the man needed to prevent a return to the era of mass atrocities.

Cambodia does have a legal process in the form of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, more commonly known as the Khmer Rouge Tribunal. But this has been increasingly criticised during its nine-year life. So far, it has achieved just three convictions against leaders, including Kaing Guek Eav, or “Comrade Duch”. He was a security chief and had charge of the notorious Tuol Sleng prison in Phnom Penh, whose inmates ended up in the Choeung Ek killing fields. Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan, two other top officials, were sentenced to life imprisonment last year but human rights groups accuse the Cambodian government of undermining the work of the court.

Theary Seng is disillusioned by the tribunal. She says it has failed to embrace survivors like her as parties to cases — although others, including the court itself, have disputed this. She argues legal processes suitable for protecting the rights of a single defendant in a “simple murder in the streets of Michigan” shouldn’t be applied to an atrocity where most of the population are victims. “For example, the right to remain silent,” she says. “I don’t want these bastards to remain silent — I’m sorry.”

Her own investigations are not so much about justice as about how her parents died and who was responsible. She is also, in common with other Cambodians such as the film-makers Rithy Panh and Kulikar Sotho, trying to redress an imbalance that has meant most of the accounts of the Khmer Rouge years have come from foreigners. A decade ago, she wrote a book called Daughter of the Killing Fields. Now she is working on an expanded account of a past that is raw yet elusive. While the Khmer Rouge days were characterised by surveillance, informers and paranoia, gathering facts is now near impossible.

“I have to weigh — is what my relatives are telling me true?” Theary Seng says over dinner the night before the journey. “What is true any more? There are so many layers and it has been so difficult.”

Elegantly dressed in a traditional long skirt and blouse, Theary Seng talks with an unnerving directness about the impact of her inquiries on herself and her family. She says she has read a lot of self-help books as she “didn’t want to shame my relatives by going to see a psychologist”, adding that she was drawn to law as “a tool to give coherence to my tangled inner world”. What she refers to as her “fists-up” approach has alienated some, who say her criticisms of the country and its people can be insensitive. One long-time observer of the country’s politics says she is “known for her rants”, some well-targeted but others suggesting a “deep cultural dislocation”. Theary Seng concedes that not all of the censure of her is wrong but retorts that sometimes the attacks on her are personal rather than addressing what she is saying.

She may be trenchant but Theary Seng can also be warm and darkly funny. At one point, when we see a dangerous piece of driving, she volunteers that “200 people die a month because of road traffic accidents”. She adds wryly: “I don’t know why I bring up awful information at the wrong time.”

Our first stop is at a pagoda by the side of the highway, where multicoloured pennants flank a drive that leads to a concrete building with a red tiled roof. Inside are a large Buddha icon, abandoned furniture and Van Sovy, a shaven-headed 71-year-old female caretaker. She was here when Theary Seng and her family arrived at this impromptu detention centre on their march from Phnom Penh in April 1975. “A lot of sadistic violence occurred here,” Theary Seng says. “I talked to a man who came in and out of here, and he talked of seeing people eating the internal organs of people they had killed.”

Theary Seng explains that she pieced together her account from the memories of her two older brothers and two aunts, who were also with her. It was in this place that her father, a teacher, fatally answered the call for civil servants and people like him who had fought for the ousted regime to make themselves known to their captors, because they were needed to rebuild the country. In those early days, the Khmer Rouge were hailed by many, including Theary Seng’s mother, as liberators from the US proxy war. One of the great tragedies was a belief that ties of nationality, ethnicity or religion would be protection. As Robert Carmichael puts it in When Clouds Fell From the Sky, a new book about a young diplomat enticed home by the Khmer Rouge, many did return voluntarily because they were patriotic and believed “Cambodians would not kill Cambodians”.


Theary Seng’s family never heard from her father again. “I really was a broken child,” she tells me as we drive away. “Some people today would say, and I probably would agree, I am still broken. A lot of Cambodians are broken. My relatives and my family are a microcosm of a larger society.”

We pass over the Mekong River, across which Theary Seng’s family fled to escape the pagoda after her father’s disappearance. Nowadays it is spanned by a new suspension bridge, the longest in the country and backed with Japanese money. Traffic crawls across, forced into a bottleneck by the cars, motorbikes and tuk-tuks that pull over to take selfies with the bridge.

On the other side, the settlements become sparser as we reach the countryside close to the Vietnamese border. We stop at a compound where a door in a small shrine swings gently back and forth in the breeze, drawing attention to the skulls within. In a building next to the shrine, murals show grim scenes of people being herded and tortured. “If I had been older, this is what I would have remembered,” Theary Seng says.

Her family sought refuge in the village of Chensa, where her father’s relatives came from. The settlement is now a long road with occasional compounds interspersed with rice fields. The family lived discreetly here for more than two years until suddenly, one day in late 1977, they were arrested.

The morning after we arrive, Theary Seng heads off with one of her aunts in search of a possible witness to their capture. His name is Keo Sok and he was a clerk under the Khmer Rouge. He lives a short drive away, with a small shrine in his front yard. His forehead is lined and his teeth decaying. He is also surprisingly friendly. It is an emotional meeting, during which Theary Seng wells up with tears.

Keo Sok says he was just 17 years old when one of the Khmer Rouge’s committees chose him to be a note-taker. He never wanted to do it but was afraid to say no. He was worried and nervous when the Khmer Rouge killed people but was not involved in the murders himself. He knew Theary Seng’s father but he had nothing to do with the family’s arrest. Theary Seng later says she believes him, though she also notes that he showed little remorse. “I do not feel anything [bad], as I did not do any wrong to her family,” Keo Sok says.


To an outsider, it seems unbelievable and unnerving that these claims and counterclaims have been festering in such a small community for 40 years. We go to see two more people in the area whom Theary Seng’s aunt says may have been involved in the arrest of the family. Theary Seng’s surprise visits to the pair, who are both distant relatives, are much more tense than the encounter with Keo Sok. At the first house, the man in question, shirtless and skinny, angrily denies complicity. The second man lies motionless on a mat in the shade, while family members defend him. His head is turned away from the conversation and his stillness suggests he will take any secrets to the grave.

After their arrest, the Seng family were taken to another pagoda prison. It’s a place of solitude and rare beauty, a vast open ground dotted with a few dogs, a piglet and a lone scurrying figure. But the beauty is deceptive: Khmer Rouge soldiers kept guard in the handsome palm trees, and the sun-dappled waters of the small lake are only there because the earth was excavated by prisoners.

A few months later, the family was moved to a different prison, where Theary Seng was put to work collecting animal manure from the rice fields. It was here that her mother was taken away. Seven years old by now, Theary Seng says she has quite a clear memory of the night her mother disappeared in 1978. She saw a guard entering the cabin. She asked her mother why he was carrying ropes that were wetted. It was to make them easier to handle for tying up prisoners. The last words she heard her mother say were to tell her to go to sleep.

As we walk through a copse to arrive at the site, a party is in full swing. It’s the end of the Khmer New Year celebrations and people are dancing to traditional music. A man who has had a bit too much to drink pulls Theary Seng in for a dance. The music stops and another man offers her a pair of rusted shackles. She is thrilled, falling to her knees in excitement. I ask her why she is so euphoric. “These are the actual shackles of that time,” she says. “They could have held the ankles of my mother. They could have held the ankles of my brother. This is a concrete bridge to my memories of that era.”


We leave the party behind and walk to where Theary Seng thinks her family was detained in a small shack that has long disappeared. I ask her how she knew this was the prison’s location. She says she can’t really remember but she thinks her brother told her. Outside the compound, she talks to an old woman who lives nearby. “Are you still angry?” asks the woman, not unkindly. “Of course you regret the loss of your mum. But what can you do?”

As we prepare to leave, Theary Seng goes to retrieve the shackles. She is distressed when the man suggests he will keep them. She pays 10,000 riels — $2.50 — to recover them. The sum is small but Theary Seng is upset that what she thought was a gift turned into a transaction. The man’s attitude may have sprung from poverty or drunkenness but she sees it as a sign of something bigger. “There’s just no honour in society,” she says after we have left. “I am tired of it.”

On the drive back to Phnom Penh, Theary Seng is excited about the new information. But she admits that it has also added fresh confusion. Untruths aren’t just told by those with something to hide, and they sometimes aren’t even told wittingly. The shaping and smoothing of memories that goes on constantly in all our minds has had 40 years to run in Cambodia. It is also snared in communities who must find a way to live now, whatever the past. “There are no means and methods to reach the truth,” Theary Seng says. “I have been digging and look at the mess it has left in its wake.”

We are heading back to the great bridge. It ought to be a sign of modernity and of a country on the move. Yet even here there is another ceremonial reminder that the past is not such a foreign country in Cambodia. When prime minister Hun Sen attended an event in January to mark its completion, he once again declared himself the country’s security from the Khmer Rouge. “If Hun Sen hadn’t been willing to enter the tigers’ den, how could we have caught the tigers?” he said.

From the prime ministerial office to the village, ambiguities, concealed facts and contested claims remain the norm. Four decades on, the idea of whether and how to let go is still moot, even in the face of the assertiveness of someone like Theary Seng. “This is the question for me, and I don’t know how to answer it yet,” she says, as we drive back to the city where her childhood nightmare began. “Sometimes, things are better left as they are.”

The Khmer Rouge was the name given to the supporters of the Communist party, led by the Marxist Pol Pot, that ruled Cambodia from 1975 to 1979, writes Spencer Brown. The name means Red Khmers in French — the Khmers being the predominant ethnic group in Cambodia.

The group dated back to the 1960s, when it served as the armed wing of the Communist party of Kampuchea (the Khmer name for Cambodia).

After a civil war against pro-western forces that lasted from 1970 to 1975, the Khmer Rouge captured the capital Phnom Penh and imposed rule across the country, renaming it Kampuchea.

They aligned themselves with North Vietnam and the Viet Cong in their battle against anti-Communist forces, and sought to establish an agrarian utopia, setting the calendar to “year zero”.

Religion, money and private property were abolished and the cities were forcibly emptied. Estimates vary but, overall, it is thought that about 1.8 million people died through starvation, forced labour and execution during the regime.

The Khmer Rouge were overthrown in 1979 by invading Vietnamese troops. Leading members of the movement fled to remote parts of the country, and their influence steadily declined. Pol Pot was sentenced to house arrest in a show trial in 1997 but died a year later.


* * *


My Life as a UN Special Rapporteur


Lecture by Prof. Surya Subedi, May 2015






* * *


Pachyderm Test of Courage and Cure

Kirirom, May 2015



Elephant dung: Theara swears it worked for her in following her grandmother's instruction to step barefoot in elephant dung to soothe and prevent heel cracks.  I will, however, stay with Vaseline.

Also, it is common for the elders to pass children or force these young children to pass under belly of the elephant as a rite of courage.

* * *



Breaking Bread


Kirirom, May 2015


I am already missing this little guy who moved back to Battambang.

Meas and I first "bonded" over dinner a couple of months ago. He did what I see many Khmer children do when they want anything, which is to cry for it. I asked his parents if I could take over this situation. Taking him on my lap, I encouraged him to cry and howl at the top of his lungs on the condition that if he doesn't use words and continue to cry, I will match his screams and howlings. You can imagine what fun we had for the next hour or so, me matching his every tantrum and screams at the same decibel or more shrill -- for I was not about to lose to a 4 year old. The situation ended when he was completely bewildered and stupefied (more like scared to death) and exhausted even as I urged him on to scream some more. Needless to say, he slept really well that night and his parents have peace at dinner from that time onward.

Here, we are having a heart-to-heart in our farewell chat. His parents are relatives of my brother's friend.

* * *



Honorable Exit Strategy for Hun Sen

Part II of the commentary written on 17 Sept. 2013

Click on image to read Commentary of Sept. 2013





Promising "Culture of Dialogue"

to usher in Reconciliation

Theary C. Seng

(Kirirom, 27 April 2015, edited/expanded 29 April, 4-5 May)


This is a companion piece to the commentary Honorable Exit Strategy for Hun Sen that I wrote on 17 Sept. 2013, almost two months after the July 2013 elections during a period of high hopes for regime change, what I called the “Season of Cambodia Flourishing”.


That September commentary has received 1.9 million hits, a reflection of the desire for and curiosity at the possibility....

In one masterstroke, Hun Sen could make all serious reprisals obsolete by accepting Sam Rainsy’s offer of reconciliation by genuinely reforming and making way to step down peacefully. Any lawsuit will be greatly deflated with a genuine reconciliation.

Continue reading...



* * *



For asylum seekers, a novel (and odd) solution: Cambodia

AP / Yahoo News | 24 April 2015


Theary Seng, a Phnom Penh-based lawyer, expressed similar sentiments. When it comes to statistics for human development, corruption, education, social welfare and security, "Cambodia ranks at the very bottom tier," she said.

"These refugees," she said, "will be dumped into a sea of human-rights abuses."



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Scars of the Khmer Rouge: How Cambodia is healing from a genocide


CNN | 16 April 2015


"The scars of the Khmer Rouge are very deep and physical and present in modern Cambodia," said Theary Seng, a human rights lawyer whose parents were killed by the regime, and who moved to the U.S. as a refugee before returning to her homeland as an adult. ...

She described the country as a "land of orphans."...

How to heal? The silence was also due to the fact that Cambodians, in Seng's words, "lacked the vocabulary" of therapy and healing to process a crime of the magnitude of the one perpetrated against their society.

* * *

Click on image or here to




Cambodia's Khmer Rouge Tribunal Charges 2 New Suspects


Associated Press / ABC News (America)


Theary Seng, a Cambodian-American human rights activist and lawyer, said she doubted that Hun Sen would allow the cases to proceed to trial, likening the court's proceedings under his pressure to "a political farce that is ridiculing the memory of the dead and grinding salt into the wounds of the survivors."


Photo: Phnom Penh Post



CAMBODIA'S CURSE (Joel Brinkley): "Human rights groups estimated that 650,000 more people had died in the year following the fall of the Khmer Rouge."


THEARY: So, in 1979-1980, Cambodia had a population of less than 4 million (5 M survivors MINUS these 650,000 deaths MINUS another 500,000 refugees who went to Europe, US, Canada, Austr/NZ).


For a people, malnourished with the women not menstruating from genocide and the similar destitution under occupation and famine, beginning in 1984, K5 Plan took another million of the male civilian population.


In law, we have a term for these abuses under occupation: GENOCIDE, the intentional destruction of a people.


* * *




Article II: In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

(a) Killing members of the group;

(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;

(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;

(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;

(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

Article III: The following acts shall be punishable:

(a) Genocide;

(b) Conspiracy to commit genocide;

(c) Direct and public incitement to commit genocide;

(d) Attempt to commit genocide;

(e) Complicity in genocide.



Indochina Report Publisher M. Rajaretnam:


Dr. Luciolli's is the fourth in a series of exposes that Indochina Report has published on the Vietnamization process and confirms the previous analyses. The others in the series are: "The Vietnamization of Cambodia: A New Model of Colonialism" (pre-publication issue, October 1984), "The Military Occupation of Kampuchea" (Issue No. 3, July-September 1985), and "Vietnamized Cambodia: A Silent Ethnocide" by Marie Alexandrine Martin (Issue No. 7, July-September 1986).

. . .



(Human Rights Watch, Jan. 2015)

III. Hun Sen and the “K5” Forced Labor Program

Vietnam installed a new government, mixing Hanoi-trained communists with former Khmer Rouge officers to run the People’s Republic of Kampuchea (PRK)....Pen Sovann soon fell afoul of Hanoi and was arrested. He was replaced by Chan Si, who died in office in December 1984. Hanoi, impressed with the capacity and loyalty of the young foreign minister, promoted Hun Sen to the post of PRK prime minister on January 14, 1985.

The PRK was a police state, with virtually no civil or political freedoms. Among the many serious human rights abuses of its rule, few were more notorious than the Kế hoạch năm or K5 plan. K5 involved the mass mobilization of Cambodian civilians for labor on the Cambodia-Thai border and which led to the deaths of many thousands of Cambodians from disease and landmines.

Planned in early 1983 by the Vietnamese military command for Cambodia...

The overwhelming bulk of this was carried out by the civilian population as planned....

According to Sin Sen, “K5 was led by Hun Sen. He was assigned this responsibility by Vietnam.”...

[by July 1985] 90,362 ordinary people were involved in the construction work.... Overall, one million or more Cambodians may have been sent to the border.

Read full report here:




Human Rights Watch | 12 January 2015

The 67-page report chronicles Hun Sen’s career from being a Khmer Rouge commander in the 1970s to his present role as prime minister and head of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP). The report details the violence, repression, and corruption that have characterized his rule under successive governments since 1985.

Read the Report


* *


My commentary on the 30 year rule of Hun Sen

Based on a response to media inquiry (well-known wire service) which I've since edited and expanded:

Thirty years ago, Vietnam gave birth to Hun Sen the Prime Minister. Thirty years later, the umbilical cord of Hun Sen and his CPP to Vietnam has not been severed. As a puppet of a historically aggressive, more powerful neighbor, whose annexation of Cambodia consistently over the years are well-documented but uninteresting to non-Cambodians, Hun Sen has consistently appeased and catered to the whims of its political master Vietnam. The facts are indisputable.

However, these continuing national security concerns vis-a-vis Vietnam have been overshadowed by virulent charges of racism by foreigners of Cambodians. The unfortunate and potentially dangerous effect has been the silencing of any robust discussion. This in turn leaves the Cambodians frustrated that they can't even express freely what they daily experience in their own home--the flooding of illegal immigrants--while simultaneously are unfairly denounced with the ugly moniker of racism.


[Read more...]


Theary's Curriculum Vitae / Resume

Click on image to view the complete CV


* * *


CNRP-NA nominates Ms. Theary Seng to NEC


Read more recommendations


. . .


My Skype LIVE interview from Cypress (California) with CNN Hong Kong Anna Coren re the ECCC verdict of Case 002/01 of FORCED TRANSFER. A 1-2 minute interview turned into an almost 20 minute conversation. Over the years, I've given countless interviews on the KR years and my own history during this time and most times I can recount without tears and much emotion. I thought I shed all the tears needed shedding for this past! I hardly ever cry over my own story these days... I guess I have underestimated the power of this milestone of a verdict as I got a bit emotional...


Click on image to watch the Skype video interview with Andrew Stevens


My interview this Monday morning with AP regional bureau chief Jerry Harmer (Phnom Penh, 28 July 2014) re the starting of Eccc the Clown (aka, KRT)'s case 002 part 2 in a couple of days.


. . .



Listening with the electric crowd in the tens of thousands to Sam Rainsy giving an impromptu rousing speech near the Council of Ministers (Phnom Penh, 19 July 2014).

See photos of this amazing trip from the Airport to the CNRP HQ, 19 July 2014


Cambodian Unionists Mark Murder of Prominent Labor Leader

(AFP | 22 Jan. 2014)



Videos 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 |

Photos 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 |



Prince Norodom Sirivudh, AICHR Commissioner Cheat Chealy, PIC Dr. Yan Van Deluxe, CIVICUS Cambodia Theary C. Seng

My presentation on the first day was on The Right to Vote


Interview for documentary film on the Cambodia garment industry (Phnom Penh, 3 Oct. 2013)

Giving an on-camera film interview on the Exit Strategy for Hun Sen commentary (Phnom Penh, 18 Sept. 2013)


BBC interview of Theary, here background filming (2nd day of mass protest, 16 Sept. 2013)


Theary Seng giving an on-camera interview on the political development in Cambodia. Theary: "The protest tomorrow is part of the creative tension that brings about genuine change. I really believe the CNRP won and Sam Rainsy will become the Prime Minister within this election cycle; we don't have to wait another 5 years."



Sam Rainsy Returns

to a Rapturous


Hero's Welcome


Photos: Theary C. Seng, 19 July 2013

More images taken by me from the truck carrying Sam Rainsy at my Facebook accounts and in KI-Media 1 | 2 | 3 | 4

Sam Rainsy flashing CNRP no. 7 in the back of the pick up truck carrying him from airport to Democracy Square (19 July 2013)

I'm at the back of the truck where Sam Rainsy is standing on a raised platform, supported by bodyguards and his CNRP officials. The security surrounding his truck were amazing in protecting the truck from being flanked by frenzied supporters all the way from airport to Democracy Square, over 10 kilometers.

MORE PHOTOS and narratives


Global Convening to End Mass Atrocities

Istanbul (16-21 June 2013)

Istanbul, Turkey's largest city at 15 to 17 million people, is magical, as exquisitely stunning as one can imagine it to be and more (!!). Also known as Constantinople, named after the Roman Emperor Constantine who converted to Christianity in 4th century, it has now only one percent Christian out of 55 Million population.

Theary's presentation, during exchange with participants


I'm presenting on 19 June 2013 "Reconciling Peace with Justice in Cambodia: the Limitations of Tribunals to Address Mass Crimes"



Theary Seng near Taksim Square on Istiklal Blvd. in front of the graffitied French Consulate (around noon-ish after service at Union Church in the vicinity, 16 June 2013)


Click here to read narratives and see more photos, or go to Ms. Seng's Facebook accounts


. . .



Theary C. Seng and the Road Ahead in Cambodia

By Michelle Phipps-Evans

Asian Fortune News, 3 Feb. 2013

Theary C. Seng (Photo: Roland Neveu, Dec. 2009)

The name Theary Chan Seng generates a fervor approaching reverence in the Cambodian community here and abroad. She is the Cambodian-born, American-educated lawyer and civil rights activist who founded the Cambodian Center for Justice & Reconciliation. It is a major component of another organization she serves as founding president, CIVICUS: Center for Cambodian Civic Education. This nonprofit group is dedicated to promoting an enlightened and responsible citizenry committed to democratic principles. It is actively engaged in the practice of democracy and reconciliation in Cambodia and the larger, globalized world.

So who really is Seng, the person? She is a survivor of the Khmer Rouge (KR) regime, and has spent almost two decades advocating for its victims, many of whom were orphaned, widowed, abused or molested—victims who were like Seng herself.

Read full article

In KI-Media


. . .

Obama, in Cambodia for a Meeting,

Sidesteps the Ghosts of History


International Herald Tribune (Peter Baker, November 20, 2012)

Theary Seng, president of the Association of Khmer Rouge Victims in Cambodia, said, “President Obama should have met with the human rights community and activists challenging the Hun Sen regime, and while then and there, offer a public apology to the Cambodian people for the illegal U.S. bombings, which took the lives of half a million Cambodians and created the conditions for the Khmer Rouge genocide.”


Click here to read this complete news analysis


. . .


Kissinger in Cambodia:

Protests Greet Obama's Visit

International Herald Tribune / New York Times

PHNOM PENH — Theary Seng was taking aim with precision and anger. The 41-year-old U.S.-trained lawyer and a regular on Cambodia’s crowded protest circuit was about to throw a dart at a poster of former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.

Kissinger is one of 13 politicians and senior Khmer Rouge leaders in a dart game created by Poetic Justice, a nongovernmental organization run by Theary Seng that highlights deficiencies of the special U.N.-backed tribunal judging the Khmer Rouge’s crimes. Each player gets five throws. A bull’s-eye is worth seven points. The highest score wins.

Last Sunday afternoon, Theary Seng and three members of her staff were playing on Phnom Penh’s riverfront opposite the storied Foreign Correspondents’ Club. On this occasion — the fourth time the game has been staged in public — the point was to draw attention to the narrow scope of the Khmer Rouge tribunal ahead of President Barack Obama’s visit for a summit meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

Click here to read full article.


. . .


Interview by Mike McRoberts of TV3, New Zealand standing on what was formerly the capital's largest natural lake, place of violent forced evictions (Phnom Penh, 20 Nov. 2012). Theary: "The international community gives muscles to this dictatorial regime to repress its own people. Before the government represses with Cambodian riels; now it's empowered and given muscles with NZ dollars, US dollars, Euros..."

Watch the TV3 New Zealand broadcast

with Mike McRoberts (aired 21 Nov. 2012)

At ASEAN summit, trade overshadows human rights

In solidarity with courageous protestors of Boeung Kak Lake, here sitting on what was formerly the capital's largest natural lake, with Council of Ministers facing it, with Bopha's mom and son (Phnom Penh, 20 Nov. 2012)


. . .


Open Letter

to U.S. President Barack Obama

Published in The Phnom Penh Post, 20 November 2012

Read letter in KI-Media


. . .


CJOReillyGlobal: #Theary Seng being questioned by Police of her possessions ahead arrival of #Obama. If only they knew her rights. Nov 19, 2012, 10:23 UTCMs.

Theary Seng and some 30 security (plus more embedded in Wat Phnom Penh and Sunway Hotel)

Narrative of harassment and images of

Ms. Theary C. Seng's stand-off

with at least 30 big bulky, heavily armed security

in front of US Embassy Phnom Penh

(Tuesday, 19 Nov. 2012)


Theary Seng (reddish-orange blouse to right) and 30+ security next to US Embassy Phnom Penh, 19 Nov. 2012

. . .


Emotional Violence of Past Poetic Justice Dart Games

flared into Physical Assault on Ms. Theary C. Seng

and those around her

along the Riverfront, Sunday, 18 Nov. 2012

A plain-clothes Cambodian police officer, left, pushes away Theary Seng, center, an organizer who was about to stage a protest in Phnom Penh, Cambodia Sunday, Nov. 18, 2012. Cambodia broke up a protest organized by her Sunday that was meant to highlight the alleged oppression of Cambodia's people by political figures, including former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and the late despot Pol Pot (AP Photo).

See more photos

See film of violence

See Opinion by Heng Soy on the vulgarity attempting to undermine Ms. Seng and the global attention on the Poetic Justice dart games

Theary Seng and Poetic Justice dart game (Photo: John Vink / Magnum Photos, 18 Nov. 2012)


. . .


Spirit of Humanity Forum


Reykjavik, Iceland


4.15 - 5.45 pm Led by Miriam Subirana, Foundation for a Culture of Peace

The session includes:

Theary C. Seng, Founder, Centre for Justice and Reconciliation, Cambodia

Theary Seng with Princess Martha Louise (only daughter of Norwegian King and Queen), a genuine "people's princess" full of warmth and personality (Reykjavik, 15 Sept. 2012)


. . .



"Take that, Kissinger!" Poetic Justice dart games filming for ABC News.

More at Association of Khmer Rouge Victims in Cambodia...

"Cambodia's Khmer Rouge Court 'Dying'

ABC News film, aired 16 Oct. 2012


. . .


Khmer Rouge defendant Ieng Thirith ruled unfit for Cambodian genocide trial due to dementia

The Washington Post, 13 Sept. 2012

Of course if she is seriously ill with Alzheimer’s, she should be released. There is no point in trying an incapacitated person,” said Theary Seng, a human rights advocate representing some victims who are allowed a role in the proceedings. “The point is the (tribunal) is so late in coming. The political foot-dragging and inertia has caused this travesty of justice.”



. . .


Poetic Justice

and Civil Party Withdrawal

in the News

Nov. 2011

Ex-leader: Khmer Rouge atrocities are 'fairy tale'

AP Newswire, 23 Nov. 2011

"I'm not surprised that Nuon Chea, Khieu Samphan and Ieng Sary continue to deny their crimes as the charges against them of genocide, war crimes are very serious," said Theary Seng, a Cambodian lawyer and human rights activist who lost family members under their regime.

"Even if I am not surprised, I am however disgusted by their lack of remorse for the suffering they caused. They are delusional in their denial in light of the weight of evidence against them - the mounds of skulls and bones, the horrific testimonies from every survivor of cruelty, the magnitude and scope of evil unleashed by them across the whole of Cambodia."


. . .


"Khmer Rouge trial is failing Cambodian

victims of Pol Pot's regime"

Human Rights Watch Brad Adams' editorial

The Guardian, 26 Nov. 2011

. . .

"Justice Denied"

Douglas Gillison, Foreign Policy Magazine, 23 Nov. 2011

. . .

Deputy President of Victims Association, a Civil Party of the Orphans Class, Mr. CHEY Theara, Withdraws Civil Party Status, Denounces ECCC as Political Farce





Full statement in both Khmer and English in KI-Media.

Here, if ISP censors in Cambodia.


. . . . .


Khmer Rouge Trial Missing a Marquee Defendant

Wall Street Journal, 21 Nov. 2011

“The release of Ieng Thirith is only one reflection of how incredibly late these trials are coming into place,” said Theary Seng, founder of the Cambodian Center for Justice and Reconciliation and herself, too, a victim of the Khmer Rouge regime, having lost her parents and spent five months in prison. She has withdrawn from the tribunal process, and instead put her energy into organizing public games of darts featuring the faces of the Khmer Rouge leaders along Phnom Penh’s riverfront – a “way of release” following victims’ frustrations with the trial process, mixed with “dark humor,” she said.


Theary Seng BBC News filming, Nov. 2011

Watch the BBC News coverage

But the trial - a joint enterprise between the UN and Cambodia - has been heavily criticised. Theary Seng, whose parents were killed by the Khmer Rouge, said putting three people on trial for the deaths of 1.7 million simply wasn't enough. (BBC News, 21 Nov. 2011)

Poetic Justice German Filming, 18 Nov. 2011
Filming for German DW-Global with Bastian and Sarin, 18 Nov. 2011. More photos...

Filming by BBC with Guy DeLauney, 17 Nov. 2011. More photos...

Khmer Rouge Trial: Cambodia Awaits Answers

BBC News, 21 Nov. 2011


. . .

Crying for Justice

AFP, 21 Nov. 2011

Khmer Rouge survivor Theary Seng told AFP she was "frustrated beyond words" that only Khieu Samphan looked likely to shed light on what happened. "The people want to know who is behind the Khmer Rouge, we want to see and understand the larger picture and we're not going to get that," she said.

From Tragedy to Sham in Cambodia

Asia Times Online, 19 Nov. 2011

In KI-Media

Others have gone further, arguing that the time might be ripe for the UN to pull the plug on the controversy-plagued court altogether. Last week, Theary Seng, a Cambodian-American survivor of the Khmer Rouge regime and a prominent advocate for victims' rights, withdrew her status as a civil party to the court, describing the proceedings as a "complete sham".

She said the UN should threaten to withdraw after setting some clear conditions for its continued participation. By pressing ahead, Seng said, the world body runs the risk of rubber-stamping a flawed process and further embedding cynicism in the Cambodian population.

"I understand the unwieldiness of any large bureaucracy, but at the end of the day it comes down to personalities, and there have been extremely weak personalities," she said. "In this regard, the UN is complicit."



In the End, Loss of Faith in Tribunal: Former Complainant

Hello VOA Special with Theary Seng, 16 Nov. 2011

Khmer Rouge Victim Quits Tribunal Saying UN-backed Court is a Sham

DPA, 15 Nov. 2011


Prominent Victims' Advocate Quits Khmer Rouge Tribunal

VOA International/English, 15 Nov. 2011

KRT Critic Offers 'Poetic Justice'

The Phnom Penh Post, 16 Nov. 2011

Theary Seng Denounces Tribunal; Introduces Dartboard Scheme

The Cambodia Daily, 16 Nov. 2011


Theary Seng's Press Conference, 15 Nov. 2011
More photos from Poetic Justice/ECCC Withdrawal Press Conference, 15 Nov. 2011

Poetic Justice
Front pages of The Cambodia Daily and The Phnom Penh Post, 16 Nov. 2011


. . .

Click here to read the full press release...


More information at "ECCC Civil Party"

More information at Association of Khmer Rouge Victims in Cambodia

In KI-Media

Theary Seng Criticizes KRT

as "Political Farce"

The Phnom Penh Post, 10 Nov. 2011


Radio Free Asia (both AM and PM broadcasts on 10 Nov. 2011)


Cambodian-American Lawyer Withdraws her Civil Party Status

Voice of America Khmer Service, 10 Nov. 2011








* * * * * *


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