Khmer Rouge Targeted Cham for Mindset, Not Race, Anthropologist Says

An American anthropologist who has extensively researched the Khmer Rouge told the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia on Monday that he believed Cham Muslims were targeted by the regime due to their lack of revolutionary “consciousness”—not because of their ethnicity.

Alex Hinton, a professor at Rutgers University and author of the 2004 book “Why Did They Kill?”—an anthropological analysis of how Khmer Rouge atrocities came to occur—outlined for the court some of the conditions he believed were necessary for mass killings to take place, including creating scapegoats and dehumanizing them.

William Smith, deputy co-prosecutor, questioned Mr. Hinton on his theories about the importance of “ideological manipulation” and “revolutionary consciousness” in mobilizing killing.

Mr. Hinton said he believed the Khmer Rouge targeted Cham Muslims due to the regime’s suspicions about the revolutionary mindset of the group, not because of racial hatred.

“I don’t necessarily believe there was a racial intent at the very beginning. There might have been animosity of some sort, but what I think happened over time is that the consciousness of the Cham as a group became increasingly suspect,” he said.

Although the term “genocide” is often used loosely to refer to mass killings, it has a specific meaning in international law: killings undertaken against a racial, ethnic or religious group with the intent of wiping that group out.

Victor Koppe, a defense lawyer for Khmer Rouge second-in-command Nuon Chea—who is on trial for crimes including genocide alongside head of state Khieu Samphan—raised numerous objections to Mr. Hinton’s use of the term “genocide.”

“Slowly but steadily we are stepping into a very careless use of the word ‘genocide,’ ‘genocidal regime,’” Mr. Koppe said.

“Now we are entering into an area where…this very confusing, I believe, for my client downstairs, who is quite upset with things that he heard from his holding cell,” he said.

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