ST. PAUL, Minn. — 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.

“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.

The investigation has helped bring the regime’s atrocities to light and have taught a younger generation about what happened, said Nushin Sarkarati, an attorney with the Center for Justice and Accountability, an organization that represents Cambodian survivors at international court.

“After the court opened, there was a big movement for education,” Sarkarati said. “There are now so many attorneys who are trained through this court to be able to prosecute human rights violations and international crime. And still there are so many victims that have survived these atrocities, and they still to this day want answers.”

An estimated 1.7 million people — a quarter of the country’s population — died while the regime was in power from 1975 to 1979.

“The truth has come out, and I just hope that people learn from it, not to hurt other people,” Niev said. “Finding justice, sometimes, it’s not really satisfying. We have to be better than those who are being so cruel.”


Information from: Minnesota Public Radio News, http://www.mprnews.org