On April 4, the Khmer Rouge tribunal’s Trial Chamber defined the scope of the trial in the next phase of the Khmer Rouge tribunal’s Case 002/2. Although I was relieved this decision was finally made, I was also somewhat disappointed by the selection of “alleged crime sites and factual allegations” chosen from among sites and policies identified in the closing order.
First of all, there must be a typing error in the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia’s April 7 2014 communique disclosing the scope of the next trial. There is no such place as “Tram Kak cooperative,” in the singular. Tram Kak was Ta Mok’s model district in Takeo province. In the ECCC’s November 2009 selection of potential crime sites, eight “cooperatives” are listed in Tram Kak.
Moreover, I am of the opinion that not a single “cooperative” ever existed in Democratic Kampuchea, as the assassination of Hou Yuon in the early days of the revolutionary regime proves. He was among the so-called “Three Ghosts,” ex-secretaries of state who fled from arrest into the maquis in 1967. There he promoted a form of rural collectivisation that involved the cooperation of the participants.
In Democratic Kampuchea, however, full collectivization was abruptly inflicted on farmers and modelled on Mao’s People’s Communes, with the widespread introduction of communal eating in early 1976, after the first harvest in December 1975. This is further evidenced by the visit to Cambodia of Chinese Vice-Premier Chen Yonggui, known for his role in promoting collectivization in China, from December 3 to 15, 1977. He visited all the model sahakor, accompanied by Pol Pot and the two deputy prime ministers, Ieng Sary and Vorn Vet. He voiced his enthusiasm for the Khmer Rouge collectivization policies by declaring: “You realized in three years what we could not do in 30.”
Sahakor should therefore be translated as “people’s commune,” but can also be translated as “collective,” which a perfectly suitable rendering of the Khmer, since everything was collectivized except for one or two sets of black clothes and a spoon to take to the canteen.
As for the selection of sites and crimes from the closing order, I regret the disappearance of too many prison sites (the core of the pernicious and criminal policies of Democratic Kampuchea), the huge population transfers and exterminations from the Eastern Region in 1978, what one can call the abolishment of childhood and the massive enrollment of child soldiers, and finally the prevailing manufactured famine—all those hideous crimes have gone unmentioned.
Of course the numerous rapes under Democratic Kampuchea are absolutely repellent, but it will be difficult to link those with the two senior leaders that now stand trial, Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea. Those rapes often occurred against the strict rules of Angkar, among which rule No. 6 is often quoted: “Thou shalt do nothing improper respecting women.” If authorities discovered such acts, there was only one punishment for the offenders: death.
Now I hoped the issue of “genocide” had been to a large extent dealt with and by-passed at the trial of Kaing Guek Eav, alias Duch. The Khmer Rouge committed every single crime against humanity that mankind can devise, but they were not specifically racists. The two ethnic groups that are traditionally discriminated against in Cambodia were comparatively spared under Democratic Kampuchea. I am referring, first, to the chun chet or non-Indianized ethnic minorities of the periphery. “Bunong” used to be a form of abuse as recent controversies have shown. But these ethnic minorities were usually the darlings of the regime and were trusted with key jobs, such as serving as bodyguards of the leadership and foreign visitors, truck drivers, and messengers.
As for the Vietnamese, they were the least unfortunate of all Cambodian residents since the some 300,000 Vietnamese citizens who had been spared the Lon Nol pogroms in 1970 were required to leave the country. Not only did most of them take the opportunity to run away from the hated regime, but Sino-Khmers, or Khmers with some with snippets of Vietnamese language, also desperately tried to go through the border. We must not forget either that “genocide” is a politically charged term in this country and has been used, since January 1979, for political expediency.
As to the Chams, indeed they were victimized more than other groups, but this was not because of their ethnicity, but because they rebelled en masse in Kroch Chhmar district in Kompong Cham province, for instance, and refused to abstain from performing their daily prayers. All religions were banned, except the worship of Angkar, with its rituals and vast meetings.
The selection ignores the extermination of 48.6 percent Catholics, of 41.9 percent of Phnom Penh inhabitants. It is silent too about the 36.3 percent of the population as a whole who died of starvation. Even as this was happening, the top leadership of the Khmer Rouge was putting on weight and presiding over the export of perhaps half a million tons of rice a year to China, at least in 1977 and 1978.
Finally, I regret the disappearance of the vast Siem Reap ex-colonial prison that served as the regional prison of the North and for which the tribunal has excellent first-hand witnesses.
I shall not forget either Koh Kyang Prison in what is now Preah Sihanouk province, for which we have factual written testimony in Moeung Sonn’s autobiography, Prisoner of the Khmer Rouge, in both French and English and to which I have contributed. Was this prison omitted because the witness has been banned for years from this country and his testifying would have required a royal pardon?
Henri Locard is a French historian who has written extensively on the Khmer Rouge period. He is a research affiliate at the Center for Khmer Studies and the author of Pol Pot’s Little Red Book: The Sayings of Angkar.