Khmer Rouge charged with genocide against Cham Muslims

Witness tells how captives of dystopian regime begged not to be raped before they were killed

Photo by: AA
Photo by: AA

A witness has told Cambodia's Khmer Rouge tribunal how captives pleaded with members of the dystopian regime not to rape them before they were brutally beheaded and tossed in a shallow pit.

Testifying in Case 002/02 at the tribunal in Phnom Penh on Wednesday, an unnamed Cham Muslim woman -- a teenager during the time of the regime -- told prosecutors that in the years leading up to the Khmer Rouge taking full control, they had forced her and other Muslim inhabitants of her village to cut their hair, wear black clothes and speak Khmer.

“Our religious practices were abolished,” she said, adding that the family was broken up and she was sent, along with other young people, to join a “mobile unit for the whole regime”.

The witness, whose name has not been provided by the court, said she could not remember the year, but that after returning to her village from the mobile unit, her brothers and father were taken away.

They were told they were being moved, and would have to set up new houses for the women and girls.

Instead, the women and girls were taken to a house where they were detained, tied up, and then asked if they were Khmer, Cham or mixed-blood as their captors said they “have a lot of pigs, so we have to sharpen our knives,” she said.

“If anyone said they were children of mixed marriage or Cham, they were put into one group. At first I gave the answer that I was a child of a mixed marriage, but then I felt fearful, so I told them I was a child of Khmer parents.

"Those who were Cham or of mixed marriage were taken away, so about 20 were taken away to be killed."

Huddled inside the house with about nine other women, the witness said she looked out the window as the group was taken away to a pit around 8 meters (26 feet) long.

“I heard the screams. They said ‘please don’t rape me,’ but I didn’t see the raping incident. It was a full moon, so I could see the pits clearly.”

Speaking next to civil party lawyer Lor Chunthy, the witness described the act of killing in chilling detail.

“They put a block of wood down by the pit. They made the people kneel down and then they would behead them, then the bodies would be thrown in the pit,” she said.

Wednesday’s testimony is related to the charge of genocide of the Cham population, and is levelled against the case’s two elderly defendants, Brother Number 2 Nuon Chea and the regime’s former head of state, Khieu Samphan.

Case 002 was partitioned in 2011. The pair is currently appealing trial chamber convictions in the first portion of the case, which dealt with the evacuation of Phnom Penh and execution of soldiers form the previous Lon Nol regime.

Two other defendants in the case, husband and wife Leng Sary and Leng Thirith, died in 2013 and 2015, respectively.