Expert witness Ysa Osman, author of The Cham Rebellion and Oukoubah, testified on his research into the persecution and killings of ethnic Cham under the Democratic Kampuchea regime at the Khmer Rouge tribunal yesterday.
Initially questioned by trial chamber president Nil Nonn, Osman explained his motivations for writing his books.
“I am one of the Cham people who fell victim to the regime; most of my relatives lost their lives during the regime and I also noticed that thousands of my people died,” Osman said.
“I needed to conduct research to search for the truth of the cause or the reasons of the killing of my people, and writing the books is part of building a history of what happened so such a history could not be repeated,” he continued.
Khmer Rouge policies targeting the predominantly Muslim Cham minority form the basis of some of the genocide charges against Case 002/02 co-defendants Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea. According to Osman’s calculations, there were some 700,000 Cham in Cambodia pre-1975.
“The figures come to 200,000 Cham survivors,” Osman said, adding that while statistics before and during the Democratic Kampuchea era are lacking, he arrived at these figures through a combination of witness testimony and the few documented population surveys available.
Under questioning from prosecutor Nicholas Koumjian, Osman defended his statistics, which are challenged by more conservative estimates by historians Michael Vickery and Ben Kiernan. However, Osman maintained, Kiernan and Vickery relied heavily on documents such as the 1936 and 1962 censuses, which made no distinction of race.
Few counts of individual people were ever recorded; so most estimates were derived from before and after figures given by witnesses counting numbers of families, conservatively estimated to consist of five or six individuals.
Asked by Koumjian about 10 villages in which the Cham population was “virtually wiped out”, Osman said that “in some of these villages, a few villagers returned and they waited but none returned” after the fall of the regime.
Prior to adjournment, Osman testified on the existence of an alleged Khmer Rouge policy that sought to seek out and exterminate the remaining Cham population in 1977. Under the policy, Cham were purportedly told to return to their native villages and reunite with their families.
But once there, “whether they were women or they were children, they were all gathered up for killing”, he said, naming alleged execution sites such as Trea Village and Wat Au Trakuon Pagoda.