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Debating Genocide

Craig Etcheson's claims ( PPPost, V13/N26, Dec 17/04) that (1) the UN Group of Experts, most legal scholars and jurists are of the view that the KR committed genocide, and (2) the Vietnamese minority was reduced from about 500,000 to zero by extermination and deportation are factually and legally wrong.

In fact, neither the UN Experts nor most legal scholars have concluded that the KR atrocities constituted genocide. A very few lawyers and some political scientists, however, have attempted to conclude that KR's killings constituted "genocide", but they have done so by misapplying the Genocide Convention or by their ignorance of the national/ethnic composition of the KR leaders.

"Genocide" as defined in the Genocide Convention is conduct such as mass murder committed with the specific intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group. Killing of an ethnic/national Khmer by an ethnic/national Khmer is not genocide under the Convention. Prohibition of religious practices is also not genocide so long as there is no intent to eliminate a group on the basis of their religion.

Under international law, deportation (of Vietamese residents) alone did/does not constitute genocide unless it was intended to cause serious mental and physical harm with the intent of bringing about their physical elimination. It is incorrect to say that KR had such intent in relation to the Vietnamese returnees (who were, incidentally, lucky to have left).

In KR liberated zones (over 80% of Cambodia), the repatriation commenced in 1973 and continued after April 1975. By the end of 1975, virtually all Vietnamese were gone. This was because, firstly, trade and commerce were strictly prohibited and, like everyone else in Cambodia, the Vietnamese were (or would have been) herded into co-operatives. Thus, there was no incentive for them to remain in Cambodia. Second, soon after the US-Vietnam 1973 Paris Agreements, in February 1973, Pol Pot and Nuon Chea and the Vietnamese Secretary. Nguyen Van Linh and Gen. Tran Nam Trung held a meeting where the Vietnamese requested that all the Vietnamese be repatriated into North Vietnamese liberated zones in the South to prepare for the national elections as stipulated under the Paris Agreements. Pol Pot and Nuon Chea agreed and the repatriations followed soon after.

It is true that over 400,000 Vietnamese were in Cambodia before 1975. However, Lon Nol massacred thousands and expelled about 320,000. By April 1975, about 50,000-100,000 Vietnamese remained in Cambodia, but by December 1975, most, if not all, were repatriated.

There is no proof that the KR leadership had the intent to eliminate the Vietnamese or other minorities based on race/ethnicity. Political killings of a few hundred Vietnamese did occur, after the 1977 attempted coup in which KR leaders blamed Vietnam. The security forces were directed to search for Vietnamese suspected of being foreign/KGB agents.

The allegation that the KR committed genocide against other Cambodia ethnic minorities is also without foundation. Of the eight members of the top organ, the Standing Committee of the Communist Party, only two were ethnic Khmer, Ros Nhim and Chhit Cheoun (Mok). The rest, Pol Pot, Nuon Chea, Vorn Vet, Sao Phim are of Sino ethnicity; Son Sen, Ieng Sary are of Vietnamese origin. Kaing Kek Eav (Duch), the notorious Tuol Slaeng Prison Chief is of Chinese/Vietnamese background; Khieu Samphan is of Sino ancestry. This mixed national/race/ethnic composition makes it difficult to argue that the KR leaders intended to kill ethnic minority groups to which they belonged.

- Bora Touch, Sydney, Australia

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Phnom Penh Post, Issue 14/02, January 28 - February 10, 2005
© Michael Hayes, 2005. All rights revert to authors and artists on publication.
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