Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Khmer Rouge Trials and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

The theme for the August 5, 2009 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association is violence and human rights. Dr. Jeffrey Sonis, a faculty member in the Departments of Social Medicine and Family Medicine at the UNC School of Medicine, is the lead author on an article entitled: “Probable Posttraumatic Stress Disorder and Disability in Cambodia: Associations With Perceived Justice, Desire for Revenge, and Attitudes Toward the Khmer Rouge Trials” (JAMA. 2009;302(5):527-536).

The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, with support from UNAKRT (or United Nations Assistance to the Khmer Rouge Trials), is currently prosecuting some of the leaders of the Khmer Rouge (or Democratic Kampuchea), who perpetrated mass-violence and genocide from 1975-1979, when an estimated 1.7 million people were killed—one-fifth of the population.

Sonis and co-authors have investigated whether the Cambodian tribunal, which was empanelled in 2006, and subsequent trials have elicited symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder and disability among adult Cambodians. A national survey conducted between December 2006 and August 2007 found that 14.2% of respondents over 35 suffered from probable PTSD. Although most Cambodians hoped the trials would promote justice, 87.3% in the same age group felt the trials would create painful memories. Sonis et al. state that a longitudinal study will be necessary to determine whether the Khmer Rouge trials will result in the reduction of symptoms of PTSD due to increased feelings of justice or increase symptoms due to the revival of traumatic memories in survivors. Further information on the study is available on the UNC School of Medicine’s web site; the entire study is available to subscribers on the JAMA web site.

Other resources of related interest include the Cambodian Genocide Program at Yale University, and finding aids to archival collections on the Khmer Rouge housed at Cornell University Library: Guide to the Cambodia Documentation Commission Records, 1985-1990 and Guide to the Tuol Sleng Confessions and Photographs, 1991-1993.

Note: The video above was produced by the UNC Medical Center News Office, which has a video library available online. Videos are also accessible via the School of Medicine's YouTube channel.

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