Ex-Democratic Kampuchea brother number two Nuon Chea confronted expert witness Alexander Hinton yesterday at the Khmer Rouge tribunal, challenging his assertions that Khmer Rouge propaganda had expressed racial animosity towards the Vietnamese and advocated the killing of Vietnamese civilians.
The alleged genocide against the ethnic Vietnamese and Cham minority are key charges against Chea and fellow co-defendant Khieu Samphan in the current Case 002/02, though the Chea defence has long argued that the regime’s alleged targeting of ethnic Vietnamese had nothing to do with race – a prerequisite for genocide – and everything to do with its problematic relations with Vietnam as a state.
Hinton had previously testified extensively on the Khmer Rouge regime’s deployment of the colloquial and often derogatory term “yuon” – used to describe Vietnamese people – characterising it as an incitement to violence.
He also drew a parallel between the violent consequences of anti-Vietnamese rhetoric and the sporadic reprisals that ac-companied anti-Muslim sentiments in the US after 9/11.
“The [US] government began to talk about Muslims and Arabs in derogatory terms, as barbarians and savages, and in the United States, there began to be attacks on people,” Hinton said.
However, in a 10-minute commentary prior to adjournment, Chea took issue with Hinton’s testimony on the use of the word Yuon.
“I have listened to the testimony, and I feel uncomfortable with that,” Chea said, going on to recite the definition of Yuon from a 1967 edition of Samdech Chuon Nath’s Khmer dictionary, which states the term refers simply to residents of territories that largely comprise modern-day Vietnam.
“So Democratic Kampuchea did not mean to incite anyone, and the term is clearly defined in that dictionary, and actually Pol Pot gave instructions to us that we should not regard them [Vietnamese] as our hereditary enemy; they were our friends, but we had contradictions with them,” he said, adding “although [Pol Pot] did not elaborate further on those contradictions”.
Responding further to the rhetoric of “one of ours for 30 of theirs”, which was discussed by parties in the context of a Pol Pot speech reproduced in the April 1978 edition of Revolutionary Flag magazine, Chea argued that this was simply a question of “militia military tactics”.
“Pol Pot said we should only deploy a smaller number [of forces] against the larger number [of Vietnamese forces] because we had only a limited number of troops,” he said, adding that “it did not in any way refer to the killing of any Yuon civilians”.
Chea then put two questions to Hinton. “Thus far, does Vietnam actually forfeit their ambition to swallow and grab Cambodia?” he asked, before moving on to the subject of the US’ role in the Cambodian conflict.
“You are an American citizen and you know that actually the US dropped bombs on Cambodia for 300 days and nights . . . Do you consider that as a crime of war and genocide?” Chea asked.
Before answers could be given, however, prosecutor William Smith questioned whether it was appropriate for Hinton to respond with only partial access to evidence and given that, in the prosecution’s view, Chea was misrepresenting the facts.
Chea defender Victor Koppe, however, countered that “Mr Hinton is man enough to be able to give a reaction; he really doesn’t need your guidance, Mr prosecutor.”
Addressing the question about Vietnam’s ambitions, Hinton responded that he “would respectfully say that’s not the case”, explaining that such a view is reductive.
As for America’s conduct during the Vietnam war, Hinton said, it’s possible the bombing violated international law and that “the bombing was a process of upheaval, which combined with the CPK’s vision of society . . . led to genocide”.
“In the end, I stand strongly by my stance that the word Yuon can be a very incendiary word; it’s a word that can incite hatred and violence, and in the context of [Democratic Kampuchea] it was an incitement to genocide.”