KIM So’s Testimony
‘I worked digging graves and burying the dead bodies of prisoners when the Khmer Rouge cadres had killed them. I witnessed such killings very often, but what I cannot really forget is the voice of one girl screaming as they were beating and sexually torturing her.’
My name is Kim So. I am 56 years old. I am a farmer. When I am feeling down, my mother is one of my main resources. I feel safe and warm whenever I think of her. She is the only one and I love her dearly as she was so friendly. She was always a strong person. She was loyal, gentle, with white skin. Many people liked her. When I think of her, I can see her smile and feel her touch, warm and soft, on my head. I feel warm and excited, and, at the same time, my heart starts beating a bit faster.
I was born in 1954 as the second son in the family. I have eleven siblings. As we have Chinese blood, I was promoted as a leader within my own family. This is also a reason why I am respected amongst family members. I went to school when I was seven years old and became an outstanding student. I made lots of friends because I was a good student and got along well with others. In 1971, when I was in grade 8, I dropped out of school because of the civil war. One of my younger brothers was accused of being an enemy of the Khmer Rouge and was arrested to be killed. In our family we were very sad about the loss of my brother. During that time, the Khmer Rouge asked us not to go anywhere. Later on, I was so eager to become a teacher that I decided to become a monk so I could continue my education. (1)
In early 1975, the Khmer Rouge slowly started to increase the pressure and on 17 April 1975 many people were forced to leave Phnom Penh to go to camps in different provinces. I could feel that we were not safe, so I decided to leave my position as a monk and went back to my hometown. I saw many horrible things along the way back from Battambang province to my hometown. I saw many dead bodies along the way – the most terrible thing I ever saw in my life. At the same time, I saw Khmer Rouge cadres escorting many people and beating them up. It seemed to me they were forcing people to leave their homes, but I had no idea why they did that. I even saw that many Khmer Rouge cadres shouted and cheered, but I had no idea why they did that. However, I and other people didn’t dare to shout or say anything. But as we did not cheer along with them, they then accused us of being an enemy of their revolution. I was so scared and even thought that they would kill us, for sure, because each of them had a gun. So we just pretended to cheer along with them to save our lives. Then I walked back to my hometown. When I reached my hometown, I realized that all of my family members had been separated from each other and been forced to work in different locations. My mother was told to farm while my father worked at a warehouse. My sisters and I worked in a mobile team and the others worked in a children’s team. At the beginning, we were allowed to visit each other and had enough food to eat.
In 1976, I was ordered to work transporting food from one place to another. Later I was ordered to measure land for a mobile team so that they could build a dam. It was at a place that I will never forget because that’s where I was accused of having engaged in a sexual relationship with the chef. In fact, I did not have enough food to eat as I worked until midnight. The chef was nice and kept some food for me most of the time. She kept doing this and the Khmer Rouge cadres later became suspicious of us and started to investigate. We did not know for how long they did that.
In October 1977, I was arrested and imprisoned. They accused me of having engaged in a sexual relationship. In prison I met a man called Chan. He asked me, ‘What did they accuse you of?’ I replied, ‘I was accused of having a sexual relationship.’ He continued asking, ‘Did you do that?’ My response was correct as I did not do anything. He then told me that I should stick to this answer, otherwise I would be killed. I did not at all expect a confession from the chef, whose name was Pheap. She kept telling them that the accusation was not true, even though they severely beat her. That was also a reason for me to stick to my answer. The prison, built of wood and bamboo, was so awful. It was such a horrible place for prisoners. Our legs were cuffed and we could not even move. We could only sit and wait for a small meal. We were tortured while being interrogated. We also had to sleep in the same place where we ate and defecate. It smelled horrible and the other prisoners screamed while they were tortured. I will never forget how they tortured prisoners during interrogations. One day, my hands were tied and I was given electric shocks. I kept responding to them with the same answer because I had not done anything wrong. As I stuck to the same response, they pulled out a bamboo stick and beat me on my back until I was bleeding all over. I was about to confess as it was too painful and I could not bear it any longer. Remembering Mr. Chan’s words as well as the statement made by the chef, Mrs. Pheap, encouraged me to withstand the cruel torture. They only stopped torturing us when we lost consciousness. The most horrible torture method I experienced was when they pulled a plastic bag over my head and filled it with water. It is unbelievable that they inflicted such horrible torture on human beings. I still remember everything that has happened to me and I will never ever forget it. Recalling all those experiences makes me feel as if I am back in that situation and as if it is happening to me again. I feel the pain again. I notice that my heart starts beating fast. I feel tension in my head and muscles. My toes and fingers are getting cold while my body is sweating. I need to take deep breaths and I think of my parents, especially my mother. Then I do a little massage, drink some water and leave the room so that I feel a bit of relief. I was locked in the cell for one month and 20 days. I thought of my parents every time I was tortured. The Khmer Rouge tried to accuse me of different things. They accused me of being their enemy. They accused me of stealing rice while I worked as a transporter in the mobile team. Later they asked me to tell them about my background. I was lucky to meet a man called Chhoun, a team leader at the time. He told me that if they would ask me about my biography, I should tell them I was his son. I followed his idea and then they did not hurt me a lot. Besides the cruel torture, they also provided very little food to the prisoners: a little bit of porridge mixed with morning glory or young banana. They even forced prisoners to overwork after being tortured. To prisoners with severe illnesses, they just gave a small spoon of porridge.
I lived in the prison for three months. Then I was later released to go work outside the prison. I was transferred to work on the rice fields and was ordered to produce at least 48 bunches of rice in only half a day. Because I had been so severely tortured, I was not able to do so, but I knew that I now had to survive and work hard to keep myself alive. I realized that they were still observing me even though I had been released. Later, they allowed me to build a dam on a rice field and to go to the forest alone to pick up rattan. I knew that there was only one reason I had been released: they did it so that they could observe me and look for some small mistake I might make, after which they would immediately arrest me again. I was scared being alone in the forest and feared encountering wild animals. But I tried hard to survive and to let them know that I behaved correctly and that what they accused me of was wrong. I lived there with young Khmer Rouge cadres who were killers and whose hands were begrimed by the blood of innocent Cambodians. I heard them talk about killing every day. One day, I heard them talk about how they had killed villagers in Romlich village. I knew that there were some of my family members among those villagers. I was so shocked and full of pain. Even though they had been killed, I managed to become stronger and to not make any mistakes. I cried when I was alone because I had lost everything and there was nobody left in my life. It was very hard to live alone hiding my background. I was so shocked when I heard about the death of my family members. They were innocent but they were killed like animals. This happened everywhere. When I try to recall the past, I feel grief and guilt as I couldn’t even help my family. I can feel my body heating up, my head gets tense, I’m angry and feel like taking revenge if I ever meet those who killed my family members. But I can also calm myself down as I practise Buddhism and follow the concept that says that feelings of hate can’t be overcome with revenge. I try to take a deep breath again and concentrate on my current life. I look at my surroundings and move a little. Now that I am at TPO, I feel relieved. With these techniques I can calm myself down. I worked digging graves and burying the dead bodies of prisoners when the Khmer Rouge cadres had killed them. I witnessed such killings very often, but what I cannot really forget is the voice of one girl screaming as they were beating and sexually torturing her. She was bleeding all over her naked body. I also witnessed many people being tortured and killed. She said – and I will never forget that – ‘My majesty, mum and dad, please help me.’ I was wondering if she was part of the royal family.
In 1979, I accidentally picked up a piece of a letter dropped by the Vietnamese from a plane that read ‘Against the Khmer Rouge regime’. I was not sure about the meaning of the letter so I gave it to the Khmer Rouge. Because of that, they accused me of being their enemy and I was almost killed. Because of the many acts of loyalty I had shown towards them, I managed to regain their trust. While they were busy with military arrangements, I requested permission to go look for my younger sister as I had been told by a man that she was still alive. I felt hopeless at that stage because I had tried to look for my sister in many places, but could not find her. I was totally exhausted and slept under a tree. I dreamed about my sister and in that dream she told me to leave the place as someone was coming towards me. That was when I realized that she was already dead. I was threatened by Vietnamese soldiers on my way back to my village as they thought I belonged to the Khmer Rouge cadres. They told me to raise my hands, and asked if I was a Khmer Rouge soldier. I followed their order. When I reached my house, I waited for my family members, but no one showed up. I started to feel hopeless again and thought that they had all been killed.
In 1980, a man named Chan Thorn, offered me to come live with him. He arranged a marriage with his niece for me, as my background was similar to his. I volunteered to work as a guard to protect the village against the Khmer Rouge. I had a gun and started to be involved in political issues and was later promoted as a team leader.
In 1991, I was very much involved in politics and military affairs, and I joined combat. On 10 April 1991, I accidentally stepped on a mine and lost one of my legs. I was not even aware of it when it happened. My soul flew away, and it’s later that I realized I had been hit.
Talking about my past experiences, I feel so sad, hopeless and sorry for myself. In the past, I thought that I was of no value and that I should leave this world, because many bad things have happened to me. I felt hopeless because of my disability. Even today, it affects my ability to work and some people also discriminate against me in the village. I feel my heart rate increase and my head and neck get tense. I cannot hold back my tears when my feelings of hopelessness, guilt and shame grow. I have to walk out and drink some water to calm myself down. However, I managed to get up and accept the reality, those feelings of grief and loss, thanks to the support of my family, my wife, my children and my grandchildren. I am even able to support myself. Even though I have a disability, I can live happily and have my own worth within my family.
Although the Khmer Rouge regime has been over for about 30 years, I cannot forget my own painful past and what I went through in my life. I still feel frightened and sorry about what happened to me, in particular losing my family members.
Because of these great losses, I have decided to file a complaint to the Tribunal through ADHOC (Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association) in 2007, to seek justice for my relatives and other innocent Cambodians who were killed during the Khmer Rouge regime. Later on, however, I decided to withdraw my complaint as I feared for my personal security because that former Khmer Rouge is still living in my village. In the end though, I decided to file the complaint again. I ask that the court builds a stupa and marks the names of the victims of the regime on it, so that the younger generations can also learn about the past. And so that we can also conduct a Buddhist ceremony to respect their souls. With the support of TPO and the help in establishing my testimony, I feel much better now. I feel supported and encouraged now moving forward with my life.
I would like to dedicate my testimony to my deceased family members, who are the following:
- My mother Hou Theum
- My father Kim Song
- My older sister Kim La and her family
- My younger sister Kim Thoeun
- My younger brother Kim Tha
- My younger sister Kim Thy
- My younger sister Kim Thein
- My younger brother Kim Sro Em
- My youngest sister Kim Chhoun Im
Testifier: Kim So
TPO Counselor: Pov Maline
Notetaker: Khen Mol
Phnom Penh, 9 June 2010
1 The former education system in Cambodia was based on the French system: primary school consisted of classes 12 to 7, while classes 6 to 3 constituted secondary school (collège) which you passed with the Diploma. Three more years of study (lycée) would get you the Bachelor Degree.