Andrew Cayley, the British co-prosecutor at the Khmer Rouge tribunal, yesterday discussed the term genocide, explaining it to victims of the Khmer Rouge regime.
“Genocide has a pretty specific, special meaning and I think it is quite important to explain to those groups against whom it is alleged they were victims,” Mr Cayley said.
About 250 people from ethnic and social groups including the Cham, Vietnamese, Buddhists and Khmer Krom gathered at Phnom Penh’s Institute of Technology of Cambodia to hear how their experiences would be used in the next year’s trials of four senior Khmer Rouge leaders.
“In all these types of courts the cry is genocide, genocide, genocide…. I want to show there are other very, very serious crimes to be tried,” Mr Cayley said during a lecture, noting that crimes against humanity carry equal weight.
By law, genocide penalizes attempts to destroy in whole or part ethnic, religious, national or racial groups. Mr Cayley, an expert on the Darfur region of Sudan, publicly differed in 2008 with his former boss, International Criminal Court Prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo, on whether to pursue genocide charges against Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir. (After an appeal, an arrest warrant for al-Bashir on genocide charges was issued in July.)
The charge of genocide can be misapplied, Mr Cayley said yesterday, discussing crimes against members of three non-Arab Darfuri ethnic groups.
“There was the intent to deal with a counter-insurgency campaign…but I wasn’t sure the primary intent was to destroy them as a people.”
In Cambodia, the alleged murder of Buddhists who refused to defrock as part of a policy to prohibit Buddhism will be charged as crimes against humanity, Mr Cayley said yesterday.
“The reason for that is because the intention was to eliminate religion itself, not people within the group.”
However, crimes against the Cham people, whom the Khmer Rouge allegedly set out to destroy, and the alleged systematic identification and targeting of the Vietnamese, have given rise to genocide charges.
Youk Chhang, director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia, said that genocide, which in Khmer translates as “killing race, cutting root,” was widely used in Cambodia to refer to suffering under the Khmer Rouge.
For many Cambodians, the meaning of the Khmer term they use to vocalize the horror of what happened differs from its definition under law, he said.
“It is important before case two starts to talk about what does it mean…to know the origins of the term that has been in use for more than thirty years,” he said. “It will help in a sense to minimize expectations of what the court can do.”
Teur Savin, 43, a Cham Muslim attendee from Battambang province whose uncle’s family was killed under the regime, said that to her, genocide meant killing with the purpose to kill all the roots of a family.
“I believe the court could bring justice. But justice is justice and the compensation will not satisfy our feelings of what we suffered and lost,” Ms Savin said.
(Additional reporting by Cheng Sokhorng)