Woman tells her story of surviving Khmer Rouge

Published 7:41 am Monday, August 14, 2017

ST. PAUL — The stories of a Minnesota woman who witnessed abuses as a child under a communist dictatorship in Cambodia are being used in an investigation into the atrocities.

Sova Niev saw the deaths of her parents and brother under the Khmer Rouge more than 30 years ago, Minnesota Public Radio reported.

Niev went through a minefield to get to a refugee camp in Thailand.

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“There is two ways to go to Thailand,” she said. “One is to go by boat and the other is through the minefield. If you go by boat, if something’s wrong with the boat then all of us will die. OK, let’s go through the minefield. At least, you know, some of us survive.”

The 53-year-old is one of more than 20 survivors in Minnesota who have contributed their accounts to an independent tribunal in Cambodia. The United Nations helped the Cambodian government create the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia.

Many of their stories were originally documented by The Advocates for Human Rights nonprofit. The stories were then archived by the state Historical Society’s Khmer Oral History Project to preserve them for future generations.

“The fact that people gave their testimony closer in time to the events meant that it was much more detailed and much richer,” said Jennifer Prestholdt, deputy director of the Advocates for Human Rights in Minneapolis. “All of the details that a court needs about places and dates and things like that, all of that was much easier to capture closer in time.”

It’s unclear how effective the special court will be, because many senior members of the old regime still have government positions in Cambodia. Since the crimes happened decades ago, many of the suspects may be deemed unfit for trial because of their old age.