Skip to main content

Legal Help | Ayuda

Oral History Project

At the Minnesota State Capitol on June 9, 1990, the Minnesota Lawyers International Human Rights Committee (now The Advocates for Human Rights) held a mock trial of the Khmer Rouge leadership for the crime of genocide. Members of Minnesota's Khmer (Cambodian) immigrant community served as witnesses in the mock trial, emotionally recounting their personal experiences. At the conclusion of the mock trial, a panel of Minnesota public officials, serving as members of the "International Court of Justice," found Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot and his agents guilty of the crime of genocide.

The mock trial led to the Khmer Oral History Project, during which members of the Khmer community were interviewed on videotape about their experiences during the years of the genocide, in refugee camps, and emigration to the United States. Each interview includes a transcript, available in English and Khmer as appropriate. Copyright to the interviews is held by The Advocates for Human Rights.

A video of the mock trial and some of the videos from the Khmer Oral History Project were entered into the evidentiary record at the Khmer Rouge Tribunal.

Read and listen to the interviews here. [link to archived MNHS website]

People had to wait decades for some semblance of justice. After The Advocates' mock trial, it took more than two decades for only one Khmer Rouge leader to actually be brought to justice. And at that time, based on developments that took place at the Khmer Rouge Tribunal, many concluded that the Cambodian government was obstructing efforts to prosecute additional Khmer Rouge leaders. In "Justice delayed may be justice denied for Minnesota Cambodians," a column in MinnPost's Community Voices, The Advocates' deputy director Jennifer Prestholdt and staff attorney Amy Bergquist called for an end to the Cambodian government's culture of impunity.

Three and a half decades after the fall of Cambodia's Khmer Rouge, a U.N.-backed tribunal in July 2014 sentenced two top leaders of the former regime to life in prison for crimes against humanity during the country's 1970s reign of terror. The historic verdicts were announced against Khieu Samphan, the regime's former head of state, and Nuon Chea, its chief ideologue -- the only two surviving leaders of the regime left to stand trial.

The trial began in 2011 with four senior Khmer Rouge leaders. However, former Foreign Minister Ieng Sary died in 2013. His wife, Social Affairs Minister Ieng Thirith, was deemed unfit to stand trial due to dementia in 2012. The group's top leader, Pol Pot, died in 1998.

The tribunal, formally known as the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia and comprising of Cambodian and international jurists, began operating in 2006.

A female survivor, 58-year-old Khuth Vouern, said she felt a sense of relief that justice was finally served, even if it was generations late, as reported by the Associated Press's Todd Pitman and Sopheng Cheang on August 7, 2014.

"I have been waiting for this day for many years," said the woman, whose husband and family members were killed during the Khmer rouge reign. "Now, for the first time, my mind feels at least some degree of peace."