Scholars’ Understanding of Genocide Questioned at ECCC

A prosecutor at the Khmer Rouge tribunal yesterday sought to discredit two academics who argue that the regime did not commit genocide against Cham Muslims and ethnic Vietnamese, claiming that the scholars lacked a proper understanding of international law.

During a hearing on Wednesday, Anta Guisse, a lawyer for Khmer Rouge head of state Khieu Samphan, cited the opinions of Philip Short and Henri Locard, who have both argued that the regime targeted the two groups along political, rather than ethnic, lines.

On Friday, following a week of documentary hearings, senior assistant prosecutor Dale Lysak refuted the claims made by the academics, noting the wealth of evidence the court has heard to the contrary.

“Short and Locard did not hear the witnesses that came to this courtroom and described how entire Cham populations of villages and communes in Kompong Cham province—the heartland of the Cham population in Cambodia —were rounded up and taken to be killed in 1977 and ’78,” Mr. Lysak said.

“They were not aware of evidence of orders from the upper echelon to identify, arrest and kill Cham people, and those authors were not here on the 3rd February this year when Meas Voeun, a former [Communist Party of Kampuchea] sector secretary and deputy commander of the West Zone military, testified…I quote: ‘We were instructed that Vietnamese had to be smashed because they did not return to their country,’” he said.

Mr. Lysak said that the scholars’ theory—that purges of the two groups did not constitute genocide, as their treatment was based only on their refusal to toe the party line—was flawed.

“Contrary to what Locard, Short and others appear to believe, genocide does not require that the perpetrators be racists or racially motivated,” he said. “If you have the intent to eliminate an ethnic, religious or racial group, that is genocide, whether you are acting for political reasons, military strategy, racism or because you don’t like the color of their clothes.”

Ms. Guisse, Khieu Samphan’s lawyer, then claimed that documents presented by the prosecution arguing that Vietnamese were targeted due to their ethnicity were inaccurate.

“These documents do not describe the cases of Vietnamese who are identified and persecuted because they are Vietnamese,” she said.

“We cannot use these elements to say that this explains, and this supports, that there was a genocidal intent coming from the CPK in generic terms. Here, we see that locally speaking we’re dealing with difficulties with issues that were connected only to the behavior of these people who refused to follow orders.”

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