Decaying skeletal remains blemished by even the slightest discoloration and scarring have been used by researchers to identify the cause of death for thousands of men, women and children killed by Pol Pot’s forces, the Khmer Rouge tribunal heard on Tuesday.
Expert witness Voeun Vuthy, 43, testifying at the trial of regime leaders Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan, said he and his team of investigators had relied on small markings, dents and stains to determine the age, gender and cause of death of victims whose remains were found at the killing fields of Choeung Ek and other sites.
Mr. Vuthy, director of the Culture Ministry’s department of archaeology and prehistory, described the 12-stage process of evaluating victims’ bones, including photographing blemishes and analyzing cranial trauma.
Experts also interviewed living witnesses who had visited the sites, observed the corpses and seen the killings, he said.
The findings of the two-year study, which ended last year, have given researchers an unparalleled insight into the killing methods adopted by the regime, Mr. Vuthy added. It found that victims had been killed with bamboo sticks, iron bars, clubs, knives, axes, bullets, chemicals and farming implements, as well as by iron rods being rammed into their ears, by being tortured and by punches, Mr. Vuthy told the court.
“Regarding the chemical reaction, as far as we are concerned, the potion usually transformed the shape of the bones, the colors of the bones,” he said. “If the victim died of chemical reaction usually it became dark…at the lips.”
Mr. Vuthy, whose involvement in researching Cambodian history stretches back to 1990, said his interest in studying and preserving the decaying remains of victims for the observation of future generations had been spurred by the death of his father, a teacher who was killed in 1976.
“In my family, we lost six members,” he said.
Mr. Vuthy’s testimony is set to resume today.
kohlbacher@cambodiadaily.com
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