New Khmer Rouge Photos Depict Life of Ease for Ruling Cadre
By | August 21, 2013

Mention the words “Khmer Rouge” and one is likely to conjure up images of black-clad men and women, their faces stern, their feet in battered pairs of rubber-tire shoes—and all against a backdrop of toil, starvation and death.

Such an aesthetic has come to characterize the brutal regime that ruled Cambodia from April 17, 1975, until January 7, 1979. But a new set of photographs donated to the Documentation Center of Cambodia (DC-Cam) from a wom­an in Pursat province’s Veal Veng district provides another glimpse into the life of ruling cadre and their families.

One of 38 photographs recently donated to DC-Cam depicts Khmer Rouge officials with a group of visitors, believed to be a Chinese delegation. (Documentation Center of Cambodia)

One of 38 photographs recently donated to DC-Cam depicts Khmer Rouge officials with a group of visitors, believed to be a Chinese delegation. (Documentation Center of Cambodia)

The new batch of 38 photo­graphs, which were all taken on color film, portray the life of form­er Khmer Rouge Zone 41 hospital chief To Sem and her friends and family.

Overall, the mood is relaxed. In some, it is jubilant; people gather around a long mat laden with food in what looks like a casual banquet.

Parents pose with their brightly dressed children. Laughter, ease and a strong sense of family also come through in the images. Another picture shows a group of men—some wearing new sneakers—posing with Khmer Rouge officials in the jungle. The men are believed to have been part of a Chinese delegation, though that has yet to be confirmed by DC-Cam.

The significance of the photos, according to DC-Cam director Youk Chhang is that they depict a life often enjoyed by the Khmer Rouge—a life that stood in great contrast to the millions being put to forced labor in rice fields across the country.

“While they destroyed us, they preserved their own families. While they forced us to work, they relaxed. While we starved, they had food to eat,” Mr. Chhang said Tuesday.

“This is what has been missing about the Khmer Rouge. That reality. We’ve been missing the human side of that. We have seen the dark side of the Khmer Rouge. It doesn’t mean the crimes committed are forgiven, but it explains to us that they were people—they hated us and were angry with us and killed us and we wonder why? So we go and ask them why,” Mr. Chhang added.

Among the latest trove, which was given to DC-Cam researcher Long Dany, one photograph is unlike the others: Case 004 suspect Ta An—a man of diminutive stature, stands with two other unknown cadre to his right. His expression seems as if it could break into a smile.

Ms. Sem’s husband, a man called Um Sim, was Ta An’s deputy. Mr. Chhang said the details help to paint a bigger picture.

“Here you can see it’s a family,” he said, pointing to one photograph of Ms. Sem and her children, before holding up the photo of Ta An, who is accused of serious crimes but has not been formally charged.

“But this one stands out, and then it changes your view of [the] photo [when you know who it is],” Mr. Chhang said of the Ta An picture. “Then we found he was a suspect, then that Ms. Sem’s husband was his deputy…. Usually you are attracted to the one that stands out.”

© 2013, The Cambodia Daily. All rights reserved. No part of this article may be reproduced in print, electronically, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without written permission.


The government has failed in recent years to take steps to prosecute perpetrators of sexual violence committed during the Khmer Rouge, according to the U.N. Secretary-General’s Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict.

Three Vietnamese nationals were arrested in Sihanoukville on Wednesday afternoon for kidnapping two 34-year-old Vietnamese men and demanding a $7,000 ransom from each of their families after luring them across the border on the pretense of a gambling trip, police said.

About 50 fired factory workers protested in front of the Phnom Penh Municipal court Wednesday after two of the factory’s five union representatives were summoned for questioning following strikes in February.

The appointment of General Sok Phal to head the Interior Ministry’s newly formed department to monitor migrant workers has raised concerns over his close familial connection to a labor recruitment industry fraught with human rights abuses.

As military police with AK-47s descended on protesting garment workers during their nationwide strike on January 3, Sam Ravy, a manager at one of the many factories along Phnom Penh’s Veng Sreng Street, was on the phone with his mother-in-law.

The Cambodia Daily | All the News Without Fear or Favor | The Daily Newspaper of Record Since 1993