HOPES, FEARS, AND AN ANSWER TO THE QUESTION OF GENOCIDE
by Iljas Baker
The Bangkok Post
May 3, 2005
The trial of surviving senior leaders of the Khmer Rouge for crimes committed during their rule from 1975-79 is now awaiting pledges to fund the stuff and operations for three years and the receipt of actual contributions for the first year.
The cost of the trial is estimated at $56.3 million (2.22 billion baht) with the international community responsible for $43 million and Cambodia the rest. International donors have pledged $38 million to date.
The trial to be conducted by Cambodian and foreign judges in a local court, has aroused both the hopes and fears of the Cambodian people. But their hopes for justice, an end to impunity and a remodelled criminal justice system are unlikely to be realised should the trial be subject to government interference. And unless the judges are fully qualified and independent, and international observers are in place, most Cambodian human rights non-government organisations see government interference as inevitable.
There are also fears of a renewal of violence instigated by former Khmer Rouge leaders who feel threatened by the trial. These fears are shared by the rural population and the educated urban classes alike, and they are by no means groundless.
Youk Chhang, director of the Phnom Penh based Documentation Centre of Cambodia, one of the major NGOs working for the establishment of an independent Khmer Rouge trial and preparing documentation of mass crimes, has reported receiving "indirect threats". The centre has felt it necessary to improve security at its offices and has taken the precaution of shipping 70% of its evidence overseas.
Fears of triggering psychological trauma associated with having to "relive" the Khmer Rouge era are also at the forefront of people's concerns and are beginning to be addressed by government organisations and NGOs before the trial gets under way.
Although the media frequently refer to the mass killings that took place between April 17, 1975 and Jan 6, 1979 as genocide, the exact legal nature of the Khmer Rouge's crimes is still the subject of debate and one welcome outcome of this trial would be a legal decision stating what, if any, crimes satisfy the definition of genocide contained in the Genocide Convention of 1948.
The Convention states that genocide means "any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: Killing members of the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; forcibly transferring children of the group to another group."
The UN Group of Experts for Cambodia tasked with responding to the government's 1997 request for international assistance to conduct a trial of surviving Khmer Rouge leaders stated that "the existing historical research justifies including genocide within the jurisdiction of a tribunal".
In particular, it referred to the "need for prosecutors to investigate the commission of genocide against the Cham, Vietnamese and other minority groups, and the Buddhist monkhood subjected to an especially harsh and extensive measure of the acts enumerated in the Convention". Moreover, the experts went on to state that: "The requisite intent has support in direct and indirect evidence, including Khmer Rouge statements, eyewitness accounts and the nature and number of victims in each group, both in absolute terms and in proportion to each group's total population."
One would think that the mass killing of the Cham Muslims at least would be recognised universally as constituting genocide. After all, this is a homogenous ethnic and religious group that was specifically targeted for persecution. But there is no such consensus.
Philip Short, author of a recent biography of Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot, states that the persecution of the Cham Muslims resulted from the fact they resisted the new order more than other groups. But, he believes it would be impossible to prove there was a systematic attempt to destroy the Cham Muslims.
Scholars Michael Vickery, David Chandler and Serge Thion all claim the Khmer Rouge never intended the destruction of particular groups of people. Mr Chandler, for example, considered the high death toll under the Khmer Rouge as an unintended consequence of a utopian revolution and Serge Thion sees no evidence for claiming the persecution of the Cham Muslims was based on race or ethnicity. They were, he states, "victims of an attempt to eradicate religion, as a matter of general policy" that included the suppression of Christianity and Buddhism.
According to William Schabas, author of Genocide in International Law, the Khmer Rouge atrocities against the Cham Muslims and other minorities are best described not as genocide but as the less heinous crimes against humanity. Mr Schabas accepts that the Cham Muslims were specifically targeted by the Khmer Rouge, but suggests the Khmer Rouge were guilty only of destroying Cham Muslim cultural institutions and forcibly assimilating them into the new order-acts that do not constitute genocide according to
the Genocide Convention.
Gregory Stanton, founder and president of Genocide Watch in the United States, has stated that it is wrong to claim the Cham Muslims were not victims of genocide. He believes Cham Muslims were killed at a rate double the national average. Round-ups and subsequent murders (including the burning of victims alive) were common, and whole village populations were exterminated. In one case, more than 5,000 Cham Muslims were murdered in Kampong Cham province and their bodies disposed of in a deep ravine. Mr
Stanton also has stated that apart from the evidence of mass murder, it is relatively easy to prove genocide intent on the basis of the official policy of the Communist Party central committee.
Ben Kiernan, founder of the Cambodian Genocide project at Yale University, has stated that Pol Pot and his group had a concern for "national and racial grandiosity" that ultimately led to the genocide of minorities such as the Chinese, Vietnamese and the Cham Muslims. Mr Kiernan believes 100,000 of a population of 250,000 Cham Muslims were killed as Cham villages all over the country were emptied.
Ysa Osman, Cham Muslim author of Oukoubah: Justice for Cham Muslims Under the Democratic Kampuchea Regime and the coming The Cham Rebellion, whose brothers, sisters and numerous relatives perished under the Khmer Rouge rule, has documented extensively the persecution of the Cham Muslims.
Children were separated from their parent, so they could more easily he indoctrinated, copies of the Koran and other religious texts were destroyed, Islamic schools were close and Islamic rites of worship such as daily prayer and fasting in the month of Ramadan were outlawed, as was the Cham language and the traditional style of clothing. They were forced to eat pork and many were killed for refusing.
Mr Osman has calculated that between 400,000 and 500,000 Cham Muslims and it small number of foreign Islamic teachers were killed during the Khmer Rouge rule. He has also unearthed evidence the official policy was to destroy the Cham Muslims. He writes that one of his informants given responsibility by the Khmer Rouge (who did not realise he was Cham) for supervising 400 children who had been separated from their parents, was
called to a meeting to plan the destruction of their enemies and heard the chairman say: "The enemies of Angkar come in many categories, but the biggest enemies are the Cham. The plan is to destroy them all before 1980."
Moreover, according to Mr Osman, a Khmer Rouge book called The Advanced Cooperative Plan stated exactly the same thing.
When I spoke to Mr Osman at the Documentation Centre of Cambodia in March, he said he was confident his figures were more accurate than Mr Kiernan's as they were based on a wider range of documentary sources and on interviews with Cham Muslim survivors in every Cham village in Cambodia. He is unwilling however to call the mass killings a genocide, preferring to leave the trial judges to identify the appropriate legal terminology.
The vast majority of Cham Muslim survivors have no doubt taken little interest in academic debates surrounding the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge. What is real to them is the barbarity of the killing, torture, forced starvation and religious persecution during the Khmer Rouge era.
Moreover, in Islam the moral distinction between mass killings and the killing of an individual is not an obvious one. The Koran states:"Whosoever killeth a human being for other than manslaughter or corruption in the earth, it shall be as if he had killed all mankind." Thus, whether the crimes the Khmer Rouge perpetrated against the Cham Muslims are called genocide-the "crime of crimes", as William Schabas calls it-or the less
heinous crimes against humanity, or simply murder, torture and religious persecution will probably be of more significance to international lawyers and academics than to the survivors.
Mr Osman's book ends with an extract from the Koran, the last line of which is: "God is with those who are patient in adversity." The Cham Muslims have waited decades for justice. Hopefully, the Extraordinary Chambers will finally deliver this to them by convicting and incarcerating the surviving Khmer Rouge leaders responsible for the mass atrocities. But time is running out: Pol Pot died several years ago and the remaining leaders likely to be prosecuted by the Extraordinary Chambers are mostly in their
seventies.http://www.cambodiangenocide.org/hopes_ ... ide_bp.htm
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