American NGO returns to Court to support Civil Party

Posted Tue, 06/04/2013 - 16:40 by Mr. Thomas Stevenson

This morning, 4 June, the Trial Chamber of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) heard the impact statement of civil party Mrs. Bay Sophany.  The sixty-seven-year-old Bay, who now lives in San Jose, California, was raising a family in Phnom Penh when the Khmer Rouge came to power in 1975.  Before a gallery full of Cambodian and international observers, she described the evacuation and subsequent splintering of her family.  Although Mrs. Bay’s pain was obvious, it was equally obvious that she desperately wanted her story heard.  The ECCC must deliver justice for her family, she said at the close of her testimony, if she is to die in peace. 


Mrs. Bay Sophany during her testimony on 4 June 2013.


Mrs. Bay’s testimony was made possible by the Applied Social Research Institute of Cambodia (ASRIC;, a non-profit founded by Leakhena Nou, Associate Professor of Sociology at Cal State’s Longbeach campus.  I spoke with Professor Nou in the public gallery of the ECCC courtroom, shortly before Bay took the stand.

Nou herself had little knowledge of the tribunal until late 2009.  Upon reading about the ECCC in a Voice of America article, she wondered whether Khmer Rouge survivors living overseas could participate, and in what capacity.  When she emailed the ECCC with the query, court representatives responded that U.S.-based victims could participate by filling out the Victim Information Form.  But, when she accessed the form, Professor Nou realized completing it would be an onerous undertaking for most elderly Khmer Rouge survivors.  “The form is complicated,” she explained, “and many of [the Khmer Rouge survivors] don’t even know how to use a computer.”  In some countries—such as Belgium and France—Cambodians wishing to participate in ECCC proceedings are eligible for government support.  Not so in the United States.

Feeling strongly that Khmer Rouge victims have a right to participate in the trial—without having to clear technological hurdles—Professor Nou reached out to NYU’s Asia Pacific American Institute, as well as UCLA and Harvard law schools.  In conjunction with her partners, she began contacting Khmer community leaders all over America with a question:  “Do you want to file for Civil Party or Complainant status with the ECCC?”  Relying solely upon voluntary labor, the ASRIC submitted a slew of Civil Party Applications and Complaints on behalf of U.S.-based Cambodians ahead of the January 2010 deadline.  In early 2012, with Case 002 just underway, she learned that every application had been accepted.  ASRIC now supports 129 Complainants and 45 Civil Parties in the United States.


Professor Nou Leakhena (right) together with Civil Party Mrs. Bay Sophany.


Professor Nou makes annual visits from the U.S., she tells me, and each time she brings a few of ASRIC’s civil parties to observe.  Nou says that, through greater exposure to the court, she has become more tolerant of the setbacks that are so widely reported by the media.  “The court is not perfect,” she concedes, but it is one of several symbolic measures contributing to Cambodian reconciliation. 

As for Mrs Bay, Nou says, “She has been waiting for this for a long time.”

You can watch a video recording of Mrs. Bay's testimony below