Dr. Seiha Chea was born in 1938 in Cambodia when it was still a French protectorate. He witnessed his country’s tumultuous transitions from a French colony to independence, absolute monarchy, Khmer Republic, Democratic Kampuchea, the People’s Republic of Kampuchea (under the Vietnamese), the state of Cambodia, and its present-day constitutional monarchy.
He was a government doctor until 17 April 1975 when the Khmer Rouge seized control of the country and subsequently founded Democratic Kampuchea, which was anything but democratic. Treated as a war prisoner by the Khmer Rouge, his life was constantly under threat. Although it is commonly assumed that the Khmer Rouge completely abolished medical care (as all educated professionals, such as doctors, were massacred), Dr. Chea’s first-person account provides a glimpse into how medical care was administered in democratic Kampuchea and serves as an invaluable historical record.
Circumstances compelled him to escape from the Khmer Rouge’s reign of terror. He fled to Thailand after surviving weeks without food and water in the forest, alone and injured. Subsequently, he made his way as a refugee to France.
Notwithstanding health and other hazards to his own well-being, Dr. Chea actively safeguarded the welfare of the Khmer refugees in both Thailand and France. He also strove to let the world know the truth about the Khmer Rouge’s atrocities through a newsletter and association he started in Paris.