An American university professor and demographer says he has come up with the most accurate estimate yet for the number of people killed under the Khmer Rouge, putting the figure between 1.2 million and 2.8 million, according to a statement released by the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).
Patrick Heuveline, a professor of sociology at UCLA, conceded that his estimate was a wide range, but said that his methods added legitimacy to an often-disputed figure.
“Most people…report the range without reflecting the uncertainty attached to it,” Mr. Heuveline said in the statement, which was posted to UCLA’s website on Thursday. “I wanted to provide a sense of how confident we can be that the actual death toll is within a particular range,” he said.
According to the statement, Mr. Heuveline, whose research will appear in the upcoming issue of the journal Population Studies, said his new estimate differs from previous ones—and is more accurate—because it takes a larger number of variables into consideration.
“[W]here Heuveline’s predecessors ultimately took into account no more than five variables, he incorporated 47 of them,” the statement says. “In all, Heuveline took into account 10,000 combinations of the 47 variables.”
Mr. Heuveline’s computer simulations show that there is a 95 percent chance the death toll under the Khmer Rouge was between 1.2 and 2.8 million, with a 15 percent chance it was less than 1.5 million and a 15 percent chance it was greater than 2.25 million.
In a 2009 report, Ewa Tabeau, a demographer hired by the Khmer Rouge tribunal, looked at varying figures from 12 sources, including Mr. Heuveline’s previous work, and determined that there were most likely between 1.747 million and 2.2 million deaths during the Khmer Rouge regime.
In his book “Cambodia 1975-1982,” historian Michael Vickery writes that the estimates are so varied because many government-provided statistics—such as total population—from before and during the Khmer Rouge era are also disputed.
Henri Locard, a French historian who studies Cambodia, said Sunday that an estimate of about 2 million deaths was likely the most accurate.
“It’s not impossible that it’s over 2 million. But for being conservative and being safe, 2 million is a serious estimate,” he said, explaining that he was drawing on an analysis conducted by French demographer Marek Sliwinski.
Mr. Locard also said Mr. Heuveline’s range was too wide to be helpful.
“It’s so wide it’s quite meaningless,” he said. “You can’t make anything out of that.”