Subscribe Search

Search form

Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Why did they kill?

Why did they kill?

Why did they kill?

According to Alex Hinton, the Democratic Kampuchea violence was genocide both in

the "strict sense" of the Genocide Convention such as the attacks on ethnic

minorities like Cham and Vietnamese and religious groups like Buddhist monks, and

in the broad sense such as "attempts to annihilate political and economic groups"

(Post, October 7, 2005).

Hinton's assertion is wrong in law and in fact.

There is no evidence the Khmer Rouge leadership had an intent to destroy any group

based on their race, ethnicity or religion. Admittedly, some members of ethnic and

religious minority groups died during DK, but dead bodies do not necessarily equate

with genocide.

On the Chams: The notable incident occurred in 1976 in which a high-ranking DK official

was killed and a few were injured in the Cham armed rebellion in Kampong Cham. As

a result, the Cham in that the area were dispersed and those responsible apprehended.

This was a military or security response rather than conduct based on race or ethnicity.

In addition, a lot of Chams, like other ethnicities, were part of the communist revolution

and worked for the top organs of the state from the National Assembly's Permanent

Committee (Mat Ly) to the top secret state security apparatus S-21, such as Yeu Math,

Ny Sman, Tam Math and Sim Mel. True, of 14,000 S-21 prisoners, about 40 Chams were

"processed" through the prison, and about 20 of these were executed. Nothing,

including their confessions, suggested they were killed because they were Cham. Like

many other prisoners, they were arrested and sent to S-21 because of being implicated

in alleged anti-revolutionary activities. Sim Mel, who was one of the S-21 interrogators,

was executed based on the fact that he, without permission, killed many prisoners

he interrogated. His victims included Meas Ke, a director of Prince Sihanouk's Cabinet,

and a fellow KR soldier, Keng Mam. These deaths caused Duch to suspect Mel and recall

him from interrogation duties and place him in an S-21 food production unit. Implicated

by a prisoner as a traitor, he was brought back to S-21, interrogated and killed.

In regions with high Cham populations, DK created a "Khmer-Islamic Educational

Training Unit" which was usually staffed by Chams and even had their own cooperative

centers. For instance, in the eastern region there was a "Khmer-Islamic Training

Unit" attached to Region 203. Mzas Loh and Mat Ly (who also became CPP high-ranking

officials), according to their biography, were a part of the Unit. Ysa Osman, a researcher

of the Documentation Center in his Oukobah (2002) found that KR committed genocide

against Chams but the evidence he collected, such as the act of prohibiting Islamic

practices, is not evidence of genocide.

On the Buddhist monks: Contrary to Hinton's assertion, there was no evidence to suggest

that the KR had a policy or intent to destroy Buddhist monks. The temples in all

main centers remained intact. Admittedly, a few wooden temples and big houses in

remote regions were dismantled in order to use the wood for building cooperative

centers, storage and primary schools.

Immediately after the DK takeover, monks were allowed to stay in the temples but

were told to produce food and cook for themselves. This was a main factor causing

them to disrobe and become farmers/workers like the rest of the society. Forced disrobing

and prohibition of religious practice are not crimes under the Genocide Convention.

True, some of them died from the harsh conditions, but this kind of death is not


On the Vietnamese: They were allowed to leave the country without harm. About 400,000

left by the end of 1976, although an unknown number remained. When border conflicts

intensified in 1977, public anti-Vietnamese rhetoric began to emerge through state

media, but it was meant for the enemy over the border. Admittedly, there were a number

of Vietnamese killed in response to the coup plot in mid 1977. Again, this was a

response to a security threat and not because of their ethnic background. Ben Kiernan's

evidence of the central genocidal policy against Vietnamese was his interview with

a layperson who claimed to have seen a top secret "Directive from 870, (the

CPK Center)": (Pol Pot Regime, p269), that "instructed local officials

to arrest all ethnic Vietnamese..." In fact, there was no "Directive from

870" because the Office 870 did not issue either that alleged directive or directives

of that nature.

Alex Hinton is incorrect to claim that (1) killing of political and economic groups

is also genocide in the "broad sense" of the convention, and (2) that most

scholars of genocide agree.

The Travaux Préparatoires of the Genocide Convention demonstrate that destroying

groups based on political affiliation or economics was expressly excluded from the

convention. Although scholar Beth Van Schaack (1997) argues that destruction of political

groups constitutes genocide based on a higher law or jus cogens, even she did not

attempt to argue that politicide is a crime under the convention, in any sense. Her

problem is, however, that genocide is a treaty-based crime and as such the Vienna

Convention on the Law of Treaties applies. This convention does not allow "smart"

or broad interpretation of a treaty - either something is in the treaty or it is


In the case of Cambodia, such incorporation of politicide would be contrary to current

jurisprudence on genocide and the terms of the convention. It would be a retroactive

move, an act that is prohibited by the 1993 Constitution and the Paris Accords 1991.

Bora Touch, Sydney


  • Kak Channthy, Cambodian Space Project frontwoman, killed in crash at 38 [Updated]

    Updated 5:05pm, Tuesday, March 20, 2018 Kak Channthy, frontwoman of popular The Cambodian Space Project, was killed Tuesday morning in a traffic accident in Phnom Penh. She was 38. Channthy, the internationally recognised singer-songwriter also known as “Srey Thy”, was reportedly travelling in a tuk-tuk on the city's

  • Australians protest Asean summit visit by PM Hun Sen

    Hundreds of protesters gathered in Sydney’s Hyde Park on Friday to protest against Cambodian strongman Hun Sen, who claimed to have been gifted millions of dollars by the Australian government ahead of a special Asean summit this weekend. An estimated 300 protesters, the majority of

  • One Australian, one Cambodian killed in explosion at military base

    Updated: 5:20pm, Friday 16 March 2018 An Australian tourist and a Cambodian soldier were killed in an explosion on Thursday afternoon at an army base in Cambodia’s Kampong Speu province. The Australian, whom the government initially identified as a technical demining expert in his 40s, and

  • Peeling back layers of prehistory in Battambang

    When the man passed away, he had not yet reached 50. He belonged to a tribe that had settled near the Sangker River in Battambang province, likely cultivating the fields and raising animals. On the side, they hunted for boars, and even turtles, one of which