Reach Sambath was a Cambodian journalist and a spokesperson and Chief of Public Affairs of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC). Sambath was a respected journalist with a master’s degree from Columbia University and a career as a university lecturer at the Royal University of Phnom Penh and a reporter in Cambodia with Agence France-Presse since 1990s.
(17 July 1964 – 11 May 2011)
Sambath was born in Svay Rieng, Cambodia. His father was a district governor. In 1975, at the age of 10, he lost his mother, father and three of his four brothers to the Khmer Rouge‘s killing fields. For years, he searched for any scrap of memory of his lost family, eventually retrieving an old picture of his father from a family friend taken when he was a monk for a short-time in a Buddhist pagoda. After the Khmer Rouge period, he eked out a living as a bike taxi-driver from 1981 to 1984 to support his studies.
He attended Wat Phnom Primary School, and graduated from Sisowath High School or Lycée Sisowath in 1987. In 1984, because of some English knowledge he acquired in school, he became an English teacher, known to many Cambodians at that time. During his toughest times living as an orphan, Reach Sambath stayed at a pagoda as a pagoda boy, and received support from relatives and people around him.
After graduation from high school, Reach Sambath received a scholarship to study Agriculture in India. After the election organized by the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia in 1993, Sambath pursued his studies in the field of Journalism at Chulalongkorn University. He also took a course on Public Administration, Telecommunications and Journalism at a Californian University, the United States.
As a journalist
After studying a bachelor’s degree in Agriculture in India from 1988 to 1992, Sambath returned to Cambodia and worked as a reporter for Agence-France Presse (AFP), based in Cambodia. He worked there until 2002. In an interview with an RFI, Sambath said that he did not have a strong like for his courses, but instead developed an interest in the press while he was in India.
As a journalism lecturer
Sambath became a journalism trainer in 1997. He taught Journalism in the Department of Media and Communication, Royal University of Phnom Penh. Besides his work with the ECCC, he usually spent his precious weekend teaching a class of feature writing.
Work at the Khmer Rouge Tribunal
In February 2006, Sambath became a Cambodian spokesman at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia ECCC. He was also regarded by the victims of the Khmer Rouge regime as “Spokesperson for the ghosts.” Then, in June 2009, he was promoted to be a chief of public affairs of the ECCC.
Sambath died on May 11, 2011 at the age of 47 , in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, after having been struck by a massive stroke.
In recognition of his contributions to the nation, on 12 May 2011 the Royal Government of Cambodia awarded Reach Sambath the “Mony Saraphoan” medal at the “Maha Sereivann” grade.
Reach received an award in 2000 by US-based Human Rights Watch for his life story before and after the Khmer Rouge.