Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Spotlight on ignored minority

Spotlight on ignored minority

Spotlight on ignored minority

121218 17a
Young children from Kampong Cham stand in a bed of corn. Photograph supplied

CAMBODIANS' knowledge of the Cham ethnic minority population, more than 40 per cent of who died during the Pol Pot regime, is minimal at best, says Maitre Olivier Bahougne, co-lawyer for the civil parties team at the the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC).

Tonight the launch of a photographic exhibition of Cham – who with the Vietnamese, are the only people to be defined as vicitims of genocide of the Khmer Rouge by the ECCC – will bring to light not just traditions and a way of life, but also the face of contemporary Cham, living integrated lives in the city.

Captured during the Maât legal team’s tour of Kampong Chnang and Kampong Cham, the show is evidence of the richly distinct culture the legal team encountered since taking on the civil parties case.

But the effect of the exhibition on Cham people themselves is what counts most.

“We consider this also important for the victims of genocide. To see their culture – to see that (their culture) is a good thing and useful and for them to be proud of who they are,” he says.

Using the services of Cham translator and cultural interlocutor "Abu" Leb-Ke, the team stayed with families and took part in weddings, harvest festivals and healing ceremonies. As well as a distinct spoken and written language, the photographers documented the different architectural designs and aesthetics of the Cham communities.

“When you speak about Cham, you cannot say ‘Khmer Muslim’,” Bahougne says, stressing that the religious distinctions are different from the cultural.

“One day we were with my co-lawyer (Lor Chanthy) in front of a mosque and he was shown a book written in Cham and even he didn’t know what language it was . . . I think in Cambodia there are a lot of people who know nothing about the Cham. They consider Cham and Arabic the same.”

Bahougne admits when first preparing for Case 002, he too knew little about the culture of their Cham clients. Around 250 of the 560 civil parties are ethnic Cham; proving that they were victims in their own right of Khmer Rouge genocide in the court’s Closing Orders was a significant step – one he fears will not be given justice if the court’s funding problems aren’t fixed.

“These people are not very well informed (about the court). They trust in us. My job is to (represent them) but there is also a danger not just for all the victims but for national reconciliation – to judge correctly all the crimes.”

After its run at Meta House gallery, the French-speaking Maât  team want the exhibition to  travel around the Kingdom and onto galleries overseas. “For the victims and to teach people,” Bahougne says.

The Cambodian Cham launches tonight at Meta House at 7pm and features Cham poetry. It runs until January 3.

MOST VIEWED

  • New US bill ‘is a violation of Cambodian independence’

    After a US congressmen introduced bipartisan legislation that will enact sanctions on Cambodian officials responsible for “undermining democracy” in the Kingdom, government officials and the ruling Cambodian People’s Party on Sunday said they regarded the potential action as the “violation of independence and sovereignty

  • Long way to go before Cambodia gets a ‘smart city’

    Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and Battambang will struggle to attain smart city status without adopting far reaching master plans, according to officials tasked with implementing the program. The brainchild of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), the smart city program seeks to link up

  • Japan bank buys major stake in ANZ Royal Bank

    Japan's largest bank acquired more than half of ANZ’s shares in Cambodia on Thursday, according to a statement from Kith Meng’s Royal Group. Japan's JTrust Bank, announced that they had acquired a 55% of stake in ANZ Royal Bank. According to a Royal Group

  • Ministry’s plan for net sparks fears
    Internet communications to pass through gov’t-owned firm

    The government has ordered all domestic and international internet traffic in the Kingdom to pass through a Data Management Centre (DMC) that has been newly created by the state-owned Telecom Cambodia, in a move some have claimed is an attempt to censor government critics. Spokesman