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Letter From Cambodia: American Cambodians For Justice

[Update Ed. note:  Cambodia genocide tribunal to get anti-corruption oversight as reported by Jurist on August 13, 2009)

My name is David Blackman and I am a trial lawyer who practiced in Sacramento, California, for approximately 32 years before coming to Cambodia, where I have made my home for the last three years. I have been a member of the California Bar Association since 1972. I have formed an organization called American Cambodians for Justice. This organization represents American Khmers who were victims of the Khmer Rouge and who immigrated to the US in the early 80’s after the defeat of the Khmer Rouge by invading Vietnamese forces accompanied by Cambodians who fled to Vietnam to escape the purges of the Khmer Rouge during their reign of terror.

At the present time I represent several American Cambodians who have lost their husbands or wives, children, parents and brothers and sisters during the Khmer Rouge years, from April 1975-January 1979.

Cambodia and the United Nations have created an International Tribunal whose purpose is to prosecute and try Khmer Rouge senior leaders and persons most responsible for Crimes against humanity.While here in Cambodia as a tourist in late 2006, I became interested in the Genocide Trials taking place in Phnom Penh.  Because of my experience doing trial work with large numbers of victims, I thought I could help US Cambodian Victims of the Khmer Rouge. They are some of the senior leaders of the Communist Party of Democratic Kampuchea. (CPK) and were the architects of the grand design to mold Kampuchea into a Communist Utopia at any cost. 

This is the first Genocide trial in the world that has let Civil Party Victims join in the criminal proceedings at all stages, including pretrial proceedings. [Ed. note:  see the Khmer Rouge Trial Portal]  Because of the effect of these trials will have on International Human Rights Law, what happens here will be precedent for future cases.

[Ed. note:  below, survivor of Toul Sleng Prison gives his testimony on YouTube]

The cases are at this time divided several categories, Case 1 victims are the survivors of Toul Sleng Prison and the families of those murdered there.  This infamous prison is where over 15,000 Cambodians, and foreigners  were tortured and killed.  Their buried bodies were later found in mass graves in what has been called the “Killing Fields,” a few kilometers outside of Phnom Penh. This is only one of many mass burial sites throughout Cambodia. This case is currently in trial as I write.  The Defendant is “Duch” the Prison Warden, There are only about 89 victims involved in this case.  There are no American Cambodians who are Civil Parties in Case 1”.

Case 2, which will begin perhaps before the end of 2009, [will ] likely [involve] people who were forced to leave the cities like Phnom Penh and forced marched to work in the labor camps or killed because they were branded either Capitalists or educated or belonging to a former regime. These cases will remain open for some time. There maybe a case 3 involving additional defendants but, it is being resisted by the Prime Minister of Cambodia Hun Sen.


David Blackman

Attorney at Law

American Californians for Justice

855-12- 872-503 (in Cambodia)

916-935-1164 (in the US)


I am the only American lawyer representing exclusively American Cambodians. Only a handful of Cambodian Americans have filed claims so far. That can be explained, as the terror that they experienced is so psychologically damaging that they are unable and unwilling to deal with the past and its pain even after more than 30 years.

I have talked to many American Cambodians who are simply still afraid, after more than 30 years, of  becoming involved because they still live in the past.  Once I tell them that their names will generally not be disclosed and will be kept secret, they are more at ease, but they still do not take the next step to join. Their names are not necessarily important, but their stories are. Without actual descriptions of the brutality of the Communist Party of Kampuchea (CPK), history may not reflect what actually happened.

Case 002 involves the CPK’s ideologues. Nuon Chea, Ieng Sary, Ieng Thirith and Kiev Samphon. These leaders are still true believers even after being confronted with their atrocities. They were educated in Paris in the 50’s where they, as Cambodian intellectuals, were easy targets for the rapturous call of a Communist Utopia. Kiev Samphan wrote his PhD dissertation there and formulated his vision of Cambodia as one great collective. Caught up in the winds of history, it is these upper class Cambodians who ended up the leaders of the most brutal communist revolution in the history of modern man. They were even cautioned, but ignored the warnings, from Peking and Zoe Enlai, to go slowly so that the misery of China’s great leap forward would not be visited upon Kampuchea.

I, as a representative of American Cambodians have offered my assistance in Cambodia. I am not being paid by any organization and have donated my time and money pro bono. My clients have not had a good night sleep in over 30 years. The horror of watching their starving babies die and all the killing of their families and innocent people and the fear of being killed at any moment for no apparent reason and the innocent people blown apart by land mines and the slave labor, never leaves them for very long.  They have seen people killed for humming a song or sharing food or eating a crab in the field..  They have seen people starved or beat to death, raped, forced to marry and many more atrocities and they could do nothing to stop the carnage.  Unfortunately, many are still of the mind that there is nothing they can do, but that is simply not true. I believe that the suffering of the Cambodian people will never be put to rest until all there stories have been told. It is easy to understand their reluctance to become involved.

Cambodia has no Rule of law.

I would like to give a lecture on the Genocide Trials to the membership of the various Trial Lawyers Associations about what is happening here.  I have become an expert in Southeast Asian history especially concerning the role that the Khmer Rouge, US, China, and Vietnam played in creating an environment where the Genocidal behavior of a few Paris trained Communist intellectuals were able generate a successful revolution with the naive belief that Utopia could be reached in one fell swoop which justified in their minds that this achievement could be at the expense of any means.& When their short lived regime came to an end in 1979, 3 years 8 months and 11 days after the fall of Phnom Penh, they left a nation with no educated people, 2-3 million Cambodians dead, (1/4 of the population in 1975), the existing economy incapable of supporting the Countries people and fear so persuasive that it still exists today more than 30 years later.

I feel that our trial lawyers need to know what happened.  While history continues to repeat itself, knowledge can break such a cycle. Of all the causes we have supported over the years, I cannot think of a more important one than these trials.

The existence of an International Tribunal is the first time that Cambodian lawyers have seen what the Rule of Law can mean to their society. Because there is absolutely no rule of law in Cambodia, the fallout from these trials comes in the form of seeing the Cambodian lawyers flourish under this system which guarantees justice. I see their excitement in being able to talk freely about the past.  I see it in their eyes when they realize the possibilities that the Rule of Law brings.  To actually advocate in a forum that supports the Rule of Law instead of in a system where the winner is the one who paid the biggest bribe or who knows the Judge or other powerful people, is life changing.  This International Tribunal while not perfect, is a benchmark for Cambodia’s future and those who dream of the Rule of Law are salivating at the thought of such a system here.

I need help in outreaching to American Khmer’s on the importance of participating and obtaining their stories which form the basis for the prosecution of crimes against humanity.  I cannot stress the importance of my participation for American Khmers.  Up until I was recognized by the Extraordinary Chambers, no American voice was heard.

Because the US bombing of Cambodia from 1969-1973, we killed over 600,000 Cambodians. This number has been verified by various historians. Our justice system requires that the lawyers who have always fought for the downtrodden and the underprivileged, take an active role here.  It is the least we can do for our fellow American Cambodians. (In the early 80’s approximately 200,000 Cambodians immigrated to the US . They brought with them the clothes on their backs.  They lost their families, their cultural identification and received little help from our government, who was responsible in large part for their plight.)

 I need trial lawyers help here.  It is the trial lawyers who really understand the human condition as they fight the battles for dignity everyday in this regard.  I have self funded my work here for 2 1/2 years.  I am fortunate to have some help this summer from a law student from UC Davis Law School .  She has worked night and day assisting me in filing legal briefs necessary to protect the victim’s rights here and I am indebted to her greatly.  She goes home soon and I will be left with the awesome task of preparing for a trial that will take up to two years, alone.  At my age and with limited resourses that is formidable task. I should say at any age it is a formidable task. Next summer the interns will come to my rescue again, but I need to hire some interns now.  If I would have access to the Bar Association and its members, the possibility exists that monetary assistance would be provided.

To sum up my position, I would like to speak to the members of the Bar about my experiences here and solicit their help in my humanitarian goals of obtaining Reparations for the hundreds of thousands of American Cambodian victims of the brutal Khmer Rouge Regime. Not only will my lecture be informative, it may lead to financial help so that my work here would be on the caliber that my practice in Sacramento was for 32+ years.

David Blackman

Attorney at Law

American Californians for Justice

[email protected];

855-12- 872-503 (in Cambodia)

916-935-1164 (in the US)



Victoria Pynchon

Attorney-mediator Victoria Pynchon is a panelist with ADR Services, Inc. Ms. Pynchon was awarded her LL.M Degree in Dispute Resolution from the Straus Institute in May of 2006, after 25 years of complex commercial litigation practice, with sub-specialties in intellectual property, securities fraud, antitrust, insurance coverage, consumer class actions and all… MORE >

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