ECCC turns its attention to genocide of ethnic minorities under Khmer Rouge

10 February 2016 by Ate Hoekstra, Phnom Penh (Cambodia)

Judges at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) continued this month hearing eyewitness testimony about how the Khmer Rouge targeted Cham Muslims and ethnic Vietnamese, including women and children. Case 002/02, part two of the case against former Khmer Rouge leaders Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan [IJT-176, IJT-179], tackles the question of whether the regime committed genocide as per the narrow legal definition.

Witness appears before the ECCC in case 002/02 against on 13 January 2016 (Photo: Flickr/ECCC/Nhet Sok Heng)
Image caption: 
Witness appears before the ECCC in case 002/02 against on 13 January 2016 (Photo: Flickr/ECCC/Nhet Sok Heng)

On a Wednesday morning in January, Ahmad Sofiya, a Cham, told the court that in her village, Khmer Rouge soldiers deliberately separated Cham people, members of a Muslim minority in Cambodia, from the majority Khmer population. Those who admitted to the Khmer Rouge that they were Cham or children of mixed marriages were taken away to be killed, she said. Almost 40 years ago, Sofiya, then a teenager, saw the events unfold before her own eyes. Identified Cham Muslims were asked to kneel down near a pit and were then beheaded.

“I was wondering why they took the Cham away and killed them. I still have no answer for that,” Sofiya said.

To survive, she lied about her ethnicity. Eight of her family members, all Cham, were killed.

During the Khmer Rouge regime, which held power in Cambodia from April 1975 to January 1979, an estimated 1.7 million people were killed. The majority were Khmer, Cambodia’s largest ethnic group, but tens to possibly hundreds of thousands were Cham Muslims and ethnic Vietnamese, both minority groups who have lived in the country for generations. Prosecutors say the killing of these groups amounts to genocide.

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