News / Asia

    Cambodia War Crimes Court Hears Evidence in Genocide Case

    FILE - Khieu Samphan, left, former Khmer Rouge head of state, and Nuon Chea, Khmer Rouge's chief ideologist and No. 2 leader, sit in the court room before they made closing statements at the U.N.- backed war crimes tribunal in Phnom Penh, Oct. 31, 2013.
    FILE - Khieu Samphan, left, former Khmer Rouge head of state, and Nuon Chea, Khmer Rouge's chief ideologist and No. 2 leader, sit in the court room before they made closing statements at the U.N.- backed war crimes tribunal in Phnom Penh, Oct. 31, 2013.
    Robert Carmichael

    The U.N.-backed war crimes court trying the two surviving leaders of Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge regime heard its first day of evidence on Monday on the charge of genocide.

    The tribunal last year found Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea, the two former leaders, guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity, a ruling that both men have appealed.

    Monday’s hearing marks the presentation of evidence in the prosecution’s effort to prove the much more difficult charge of genocide – the first time in the court’s nine-year history that it is hearing testimony on that alleged crime.

    But the charge of genocide does not refer to the mass killings of ordinary Cambodians, the ethnic Khmer who constitute the majority of the country’s population during the Khmer Rouge’s brutal 1975-79 rule, and who comprised the majority of its victims.

    Minority groups

    Instead it relates specifically to the regime’s actions against two minority groups: ethnic Cham Muslims and ethnic Vietnamese.

    Lars Olsen, the tribunal’s legal officer, said, “The reason the genocide charges are limited to these two groups is basically because the legal definition of genocide is different from what many people would regard as genocide.”

    Simply put, Olsen said, genocide refers to having the intention to eliminate in part, or in full, a group of people based on their race, religion, ethnicity or nationality.

    FILE - Cambodian court officer Neth Pheaktra guides students outside the court hall before appeal hearings against two former Khmer Rouge senior leaders, Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea, at the U.N.-backed war crimes tribunal in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, July 2015.
    FILE - Cambodian court officer Neth Pheaktra guides students outside the court hall before appeal hearings against two former Khmer Rouge senior leaders, Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea, at the U.N.-backed war crimes tribunal in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, July 2015.

    “Clearly in this context of Cambodia where the majority of the Cambodians who were killed during the Khmer Rouge regime were killed by Cambodians with the same ethnicity, simply the traditional legal definition of genocide would not include these kinds of acts," he said.

    The Khmer Rouge’s persecution of ethnic Cham Muslims and ethnic Vietnamese, the prosecution said, does fit that definition, and on Monday the tribunal heard testimony from It Sen, a 63-year-old Cham farmer.

    Religion, customs banned

    Sen told the court that after the Khmer Rouge took control of his area in eastern Cambodia in 1973, they barred residents from practicing their religion and customs – even their language – on pain of death.

    “Only the Khmer language was allowed to speak at that time," Sen said during his testimony. "We could speak Cham but, you know, in a secret way – not loudly. If they happened to hear us speaking Cham language we would be taken away and killed.”

    The Khmer Rouge’s persecution of the Cham Muslims, a distinct ethnic group with their own customs and religion, has been well documented. The Khmer Rouge regarded the Cham as enemies, and dealt brutally with them.

    Large numbers of Cham Muslims, were murdered. In one district, the Khmer Rouge arrested and killed every Cham villager.

    In 1975, Pol Pot told cadres to force Cham Muslims to raise pigs and eat pork, and said those who refused must be killed.

    The Khmer Rouge destroyed and desecrated mosques, burned Korans and sacred texts, and executed Cham leaders.

    Most Cham who were not killed were dispersed, forcibly married into other communities, and barred on pain of death from practicing all aspects of their culture.

    Cham population

    By the time Pol Pot’s regime was overthrown in early 1979, it is thought that one-third of the pre-regime Cham population, which numbered about 300,000, were dead.

    Sen, who was ordered out of his village in 1975, was one of the few from his village to survive. His wife and child did not.

    FILE - A woman cries in front of the skulls and bones of more than 8,000 victims of the Khmer Rouge regime during a Buddhist ceremony at Choeung Ek, a "Killing Fields" site located on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, April 17, 2015.
    FILE - A woman cries in front of the skulls and bones of more than 8,000 victims of the Khmer Rouge regime during a Buddhist ceremony at Choeung Ek, a "Killing Fields" site located on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, April 17, 2015.

    During his testimony, he spoke of witnessing a daylong massacre of his fellow Chams, dozens of whom were roped together at a time, the rope attached to a boat, and the prisoners dragged into the center of the river.

    Sen managed to escape the house in which he was being held, and swam downstream to safety.

    The prosecution contends that what happened to Sen and his fellow Chams constitutes genocide, as were the actions taken by the Khmer Rouge against Cambodia’s ethnic Vietnamese minority – which also included mass deportations and killings. By 1979, Cambodia’s ethnic Vietnamese population had been nearly eliminated.

    More witnesses are scheduled to testify in the coming weeks. This second mini-trial of the two surviving leaders is likely to last into 2016.

    You May Like

    Video For Many US Veterans, the Vietnam War Continues

    More than 40 years after it ended, war in Vietnam and America’s role in it continue to provoke bitter debate, especially among those who fought in it

    Video Newest US Citizens, Writing the Next Great Chapter

    100 immigrants graduated Friday as US citizens in New York, joining the ranks of 680,000 others every year in cities across country

    Family's Fight Pays Off With Arlington Cemetery Burial Rights for WASPs

    Policy that allowed the Women Airforce Service Pilots veterans to receive burial rites at Arlington had been revoked in 2015

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: Anonymous
    September 07, 2015 9:08 PM
    It is really a farce , so shameful that we are not be able to give the victims and their families what they need most .
    The whole world , the court allowing these killers to drag the court cases on and on forever until they die in old ages just like the one who died a few days ago Ieng Thirith at age 83 , same as with her husband Ieng Sary, who died in 2013 at age 87, before the genocide case against him could reach a verdict according to another VOA article.
    Imagine , the German Nazis could get away like this .

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnami
    X
    Elizabeth Lee
    May 22, 2016 6:04 AM
    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnam

    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.
    Video

    Video First-generation, Afghan-American Student Sets Sights on Basketball Glory

    Their parents are immigrants to the United States. They are kids who live between two worlds -- their parents' homeland and the U.S. For many of them, they feel most "American" at school. It can be tricky balancing both worlds. In this report, produced by Beth Mendelson, Arash Arabasadi tells us about one Afghan-American student who seems to be coping -- one shot at a time.
    Video

    Video Newest US Citizens, Writing the Next Great Chapter

    While universities across the United States honor their newest graduates this Friday, many immigrants in downtown Manhattan are celebrating, too. One hundred of them, representing 31 countries across four continents, graduated as U.S. citizens, joining the ranks of 680,000 others every year in New York and cities around the country.
    Video

    Video Vietnam Sees Strong Economic Growth Despite Incomplete Reforms

    Vietnam has transformed its communist economy to become one of the world's fastest-growing nations. While the reforms are incomplete, multinational corporations see a profitable future in Vietnam and have made major investments -- as VOA's Jim Randle reports.
    Video

    Video Qatar Denies World Cup Corruption

    The head of Qatar’s organizing committee for the 2022 World Cup insists his country's bid to host the soccer tournament was completely clean, despite the corruption scandals that have rocked the sport’s governing body, FIFA. Hassan Al-Thawadi also said new laws would offer protection to migrants working on World Cup construction projects. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Infrastructure Funding Puts Cambodia on Front Line of International Politics

    When leaders of the world’s seven most developed economies meet in Japan next week, demands for infrastructure investment world wide will be high on the agenda. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s push for “quality infrastructure investment” throughout Asia has been widely viewed as a counter to the rise of Chinese investment flooding into region.
    Video

    Video Democrats Fear Party Unity a Casualty in Clinton-Sanders Battle

    Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton claimed a narrow victory in Tuesday's Kentucky primary even as rival Bernie Sanders won in Oregon. Tensions between the two campaigns are rising, prompting fears that the party will have a difficult time unifying to face the presumptive Republican nominee, Donald Trump. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video Portrait of a Transgender Marriage: Husband and Wife Navigate New Roles

    As controversy continues in North Carolina over the use of public bathrooms by transgender individuals, personal struggles with gender identity that were once secret are now coming to light. VOA’s Tina Trinh explored the ramifications for one couple as part of trans.formation, a series of stories on transgender issues.
    Video

    Video Amerikan Hero Flips Stereotype of Middle Eastern Character

    An Iranian American comedian is hoping to connect with American audiences through a film that inverts some of Hollywood's stereotypes about Middle Eastern characters. Sama Dizayee reports.
    Video

    Video Budding Young Inventors Tackle City's Problems with 3-D Printing

    Every city has problems, and local officials and politicians are often frustrated by their inability to solve them. But surprising solutions can come from unexpected places. Students in Baltimore. Maryland, took up the challenge to solve problems they identified in their city, and came up with projects and products to make a difference. VOA's June Soh has more on a digital fabrication competition primarily focused on 3-D design and printing. Carol Pearson narrates.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora