Former Khmer Rouge head of state and “Brother Number Five,” Khieu Samphan, has been charged with genocide, the UN-backed Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia announced Dec. 18. Samphan is the third member of the Khmer Rouge to be charged with genocide by the war crimes tribunal this week. “Brother Number Two” Nuon Chea and former foreign minister Ieng Sary also face genocide charges—marking the first time the charge has been brought against Khmer Rouge leaders by an internationally sanctioned court. All three are accused in the deaths of thousands of members of Cambodia’s Vietnamese and the Cham Muslim minorities.
All three men had previously been charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity, and also face domestic charges of homicide, torture and religious persecution under the 1956 Cambodian penal code.
Prosecutors in September requested that judges clarify the charges against the five Khmer Rouge regime leaders being held by the tribunal, including former Tuol Sleng prison chief Kaing Guek Eav AKA “Duch”, whose trial ended in November. Charges against former minister of social action Ieng Thirith will be made public next week. Between 100,000 and 400,000 Cham Muslims died under the Khmer Rouge regime, according to figures provided by the Documentation Centre of Cambodia. (Phnom Penh Post, London Times, Jurist, Dec. 18)
The Cham, also known as Fojihed Muslims, make up some 80% of Cambodia’s Muslims, with the remainder being traditional Sunnis. Sary Abdulah, president of Cambodia’s Islamic National Movement for Democracy says the Cham have their own language and a distinct form of Islam that incorporates many pre-Muslim folk beliefs. “They believe that they can pray, and achieve great internal power, called Chai,” he told the website Mekong.net. “It is similar to what Kung Fu people call Chi.” (Mekong.net)
Advocates for the Cham have been petitioning for genocide charges against Khmer Rouge leaders for years, but some legal scholars argue that they were merely “the victims of an attempt to eradicate religion, as a matter of general policy” that also included the suppression of Christianity and Buddhism. (Cambodian Genocide Group, May 3, 2005)
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