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Writing for Raksmey: A Story of Cambodia


Multitudes of words have been written about the final third of the twentieth century in Cambodia, and about the start of the twenty-first. There is darkness and light. What I have retold from my journals and letters, what I have seen and heard, is one small piece of a complex mural.

Close to eight million people were taken captive when the Khmer Rouge seized power. Each was a witness, in their own way, to the ‘Pol Pot Time’ between April 1975 and January 1979.

Cambodian survivors’ testimonies of this era, preserved in words on paper or on film, mostly come from men or women who found refuge in a safer country. Compared with the eight million, these permanent personal records are few.

The Khmer Rouge, during their days of unchallenged power, documented their deeds in unnerving detail.

In the years that followed, journalists, social and political commentators, activists and researchers recorded what they saw happening. Cambodians and foreigners reported on the seemingly unstoppable cycle of struggle, in the hope of bringing about change.

Some of the foreigners who worked in Cambodia during these years have written personal memoirs.

I have heard and seen far more than I have been able to write in this book. I know stories of Cambodians who stayed in their country throughout the long wars and the quest for peace. There are also stories of women and men who came from across the world and spent their years in Cambodia, to help restore a decent chance of life.

If my own years could be long enough there is much more I would want to relate and reflect upon. But I am already eighty years old. I pay tribute to all of those whose lives I have had the joy of sharing: lives of such deep tragedy and remarkable courage that they are surely worthy to be honoured.

Memoirs of Cambodians who survived Khmer Rouge times

Prahn, Dith, Children of Cambodia’s Killing Fields: Memoirs of Survivors, Yale University Press, 1999.

Ung, Loung, First They Killed My Father, Harper Perennial, 2006.

Van den Berg, Jan, and Willem van de Put: Deacon of Death: Looking for Justice in Today’s Cambodia, DRS Film and Buddhist Broadcasting Foundation, 2004.

Memoirs of foreigners who witnessed parts of this tragedy

Bizot, François, Facing the Torturer: Inside the Mind of a Khmer Rouge Criminal, Harper Collins Australia, 2012.

Bizot, François, The Gate, Harvill Press, 2003.

Dunlop, Nick, The Lost Executioner: A Journey to the Heart of the Killing Fields, Walker & Company, New York, 2005.

Contemporary accounts, reports and articles

Chantou B, Donovan P, Healy J, Kiernan B, Pilger J, ‘Return to Year Zero’, New Internationalist 242, April 1993.

Davenport, Paul, Joan Healy, and Kevin Malone, Vulnerable in the Village: A Study of Returnees in Battambang Province, Cambodia, with a Focus on Strategies for the Landless, Lutheran World Service, United Nations High Commission for Refugees, Japan Sotoshu Relief Committee, 1995.

Fawthrop, Tom and H Jarvis, Getting Away with Genocide: Elusive Justice and the Khmer Rouge Tribunal, UNSW Press, 2005.

Healy, Joan, ‘Time for Cambodian Peace Ticking Away Fast’ (essay written for UNTAC Battambang September 1992), The Nation (Bangkok), November 1992.

Human Rights Watch, ‘Tell Them I Want to Kill Them’, Human Rights Watch Paper, 3 November 2012.

Human Rights Watch, ‘Cambodia: Stop Blocking Justice for Khmer Rouge Crimes’, Human Rights Watch Paper, 22 March 2015.

Lynch, James F, ‘Border Khmer: A Demographic Study of the Residents of Site 2 / Site II, Site B, and Site 8’, Information Documentation, November 1989 (available at

Meas, Nee and Joan Healy, Towards Restoring Life (3rd edn), JSRC, Phnom Penh, 1996.

Meas, Nee and Joan Healy, Towards Understanding: Cambodian Villages after War, Josephite Publications, North Sydney, 2003.

Mysliwiec, Eva, Punishing the Poor: The International Isolation of Kampuchea, Oxfam, 1988.

Ponchaud, Francois, Cambodia Year Zero, Allen Lane, London, 1978.

Savin D, Sack W, Clarke G, Meas N, Im R, A Study of Trauma in Site Two Refugee Camp, American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 1993.

Simmons, M and Bottomley, R, Working with the Very Poor: Reflections on the Krom Akphiwat Phum Experience, Krom Akphiwat Phum, Phnom Penh, 2001.

Strangio, Sebastian, Hun Sen’s Cambodia, Yale University Press, New England and London, 2014.

Scholarly research

Brinkley, Joel, Cambodia’s Curse: The Modern History of a Troubled Land, Black Inc., Melbourne, 2011.

Chandler, David, Facing Cambodia’s Past, Silkworm Books, Chiang Mai, 1998.

Chandler, David, A History of Cambodia (4th edn), Boulder, Westview Press, 2008.

Chandler, David, ‘Songs at the Edge of the Forest’, in Alexandra Kent and David Chandler, eds, People of Virtue: Reconfiguring Religion, Power and Moral Order in Cambodia Today, NIAS Publishing, 2008.

Etcherson, Craig, After the Killing Fields: Lessons from the Cambodian Genocide, Praeger Publishers 2005.

Hinton, Alex, ‘Lessons from the Killing Fields of Cambodia – 30 Years On’, Christian Science Monitor, 14 April 2005.

Hinton, Alex, Why Did they Kill? Cambodia in the Shadow of Genocide, University of California Press, 2005.

Osborne, Milton, Southeast Asia: An Introductory History, Allen and Unwin, 2013.

Sharp, Bruce, ‘Counting Hell’, Mekong Home Network (Cambodia Section), October 2008 (

Short, Philip, Pol Pot: Anatomy of a Nightmare, Henry Holt and Company, New York, 2000.

Taylor, Owen, and Ben Kiernan, ‘Bombs over Cambodia: New Light on US Air War’, The Walrus (Canada), October 2006.

Writing for Raksmey: A Story of Cambodia

   by Joan Healy