Kosal Path, a survivor of Cambodian genocide under the Khmer Rouge, spoke Tuesday at the USC Gould School of Law about the experiences of growing up in the country and his present research on social rehabilitation after mass killings.
The genocide, which occurred between 1975 and 1979, left about 1.7 million people dead at the hands of the Khmer Rouge regime headed by Pol Pot. The genocide targeted several minority groups, including ethnic and ancestral Chinese, Vietnamese and Thai Cambodians.
According to Path, Cambodians are still feeling the repercussions today. Though Path said he does not remember much from his childhood, he said he does remember not having any food. Path also remembers that his family members were forced to become refugees in Vietnam.
“People were tormented so they are not ready to face it,” he said. “It will take them time to communicate about restoring relationships between the two communities.”
After surviving the genocide, Path graduated from Phnom Penh University in Cambodia and received a master’s degree and a Ph.D. at USC in international relations. During his presentation, Plath said of USC that despite his origins, he “feel[s] at home here.” Path currently serves as a lecturer in the USC School of International Relations and a USC Shoah Foundation Fellow.
During the event, Path talked about the criminal cases involving the Khmer Rouge and said the fact that survivors were questioning the convicts in the courtroom sends a “powerful message.”
The nation still holds so much anger towards the genocide, according to Path, that many participate in “Anger Day” on May 20 each year, where people express their anger about the genocide and visit the memorial.
Path said criminals from the Khmer Rouge first attempted to blame the genocide on Vietnam and then on each other.
Natasha Immaraj, a graduate student studying public policy, said that she thought the discussion of guilt was the most interesting part of Path’s talk.
“The blame game is so typical of human nature,” she said. “They first blame the Vietnamese and then each other.”
The event also included a presentation from Hannah Garry, president of USC Law International Human Rights Clinic. Garry spoke about her involvement in a criminal case concerning the massacres.
Under the supervision of Garry, students traveled to Cambodia to assist in the conviction of the criminals responsible for the genocide.
In her presentation, Garry showed pictures of the genocide memorial and torture chambers in addition to talking about the work the students did on the criminal cases.
Maggie Buckles, a law student who is in the International Human Rights Clinic, said that she attended the event to get a human perspective on a conflict she learned about from a technical and legal perspective.
“Seeing how society has transformed and how much work there is left to do makes the work we’re doing for the tribunals seem really important,” Buckles said. “It’s motivational.”
During the event, Path emphasized the importance of continuing to explore about genocide.
“Seventy percent of the [current] population was born after the genocide,” Path said. “I think children should have an active memory of what happened.”