Cham Muslims center stage at Khmer Rouge Tribunal

UN-backed court to focus on charges related to the genocide of Cambodia's Cham Muslim minority by ultra-Maoist group.

Cham Muslims center stage at Khmer Rouge Tribunal

World Bulletin/News Desk

A United Nations-backed court began a new phase Wednesday in the trial of two surviving leaders of the Khmer Rouge—with charges related to the genocide of Cambodia's Cham Muslim minority expected to take center stage.

The ultra-Maoist group, which seized control ofCambodia in 1975 and ruled for four years, oversaw the murder of around 1.7 million people through execution, starvation and overwork. Under the Communist regime all religion—the main faith being Buddhism - was banned, and places of worship and religious documents destroyed.

When the Khmer Rouge took over, around 200,000 Cham Muslims - believed to have arrived in Cambodia centuries before from the ancient kingdom of Champa in what is now Vietnam - lived in Cambodia. At least a third of them were killed during the regime, according to Minority Rights Group International.

“The charges in Case 002/02 include genocide of Cham and Vietnamese, crimes against humanity [including murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation, imprisonment, torture, persecution on political grounds, persecution on religious grounds, persecution on racial grounds, other inhumane acts of rape, forced marriage and attacks against human dignity, and enforced disappearances],” the tribunal said in a statement.

A verdict in the first phase of the multi-layered trial against Brother Number Two Nuon Chea and former Khmer Rouge head of state Khieu Samphan, both in their eighties, is due August 7 but relates mainly to the forced evacuation of Phnom Penh—the biggest mass evacuation in history.

This second phase will include charges of genocide relate specifically to the minority ethnic Vietnamese and Cham Muslims—many of whom are civil parties, or witnesses. 

There is a population of about 400,000 Cham Muslims living in Cambodia today.

Other charges to be heard during the second phase of the trial include the genocide of the ethnic Vietnamese, internal purges, rape, forced marriage and forced labor on worksites.

At the court Wednesday, Farino So - head of the Center for Gender and Ethnic Studies at the Sleuk Rith Institute in Phnom Penh - told the Anadolu Agency that having educated many Cham Muslims around the country about the trial, she had found them to be very eager to see it succeed.

“This trial is very important for them to seek truth and justice,” she said, adding that it remains unclear legally whether the Khmer Rouge intended to commit genocide against the Cham.

“To me, if we only apply the legal definition it’s still in doubt, because of the crimes committed against everybody,” she said. “But the legal definition is too narrow. [I am] at least 70 to 80 percent sure that genocide happened to the Cham people.”

“At first Khmer Rouge policy applied to everyone, but then you can see the trend start to shift...and Cham Muslims were identified as an enemy,” she added.

Man Aishah, a 77-year-old Cham Muslim woman who had come from the countryside with So’s organization to attend Wednesday’s initial hearing, said her family had suffered greatly under the Khmer Rouge.

“My two sisters and one brother were executed by the regime,” she said. “We faced such hardships. I was made to do forced labor... and once when I mistakenly spoke some Cham, I had my arms tied behind my back and was forced to lie on the floor and promise not to do it again. Then I was sent to another area...separated from my family.”

“I want to see a verdict but I’m concerned about the age of the accused,” she added.

There were originally four regime leaders on trial, but former social affairs minister Ieng Thirith was declared unfit for trial due to advanced dementia, while her husband - former foreign minister Ieng Sary -  died from heart failure last year.

 

Güncelleme Tarihi: 30 Temmuz 2014, 16:48

Muhammed Öylek

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