Treatment of the Cham

Posted Fri, 04/11/2014 - 11:37 / Updated Wed, 08/26/2015 - 16:12
Democratic Kampuchea Zone
Democratic Kampuchea District
Democratic Kampuchea Sector
Current Day District
Current Day Province
Alleged Crimes

[Disclaimer: The content in Closing Orders are allegations, which need to be proven through adversarial hearings. As such, the allegations below can not be treated as facts unless they have been established through a final judgment.]

From the Case 002 Closing Order:


205. One of the five policies was to implement and defend the CPK socialist revolution through the targeting of specific groups by whatever means necessary. This measure adversely affected many groups of people within Cambodia at that time, directly or indirectly. The Co-Investigating Judges have been specifically seized of acts of the CPK targeting the Cham, Vietnamese and Buddhist groups, and the targeting of former officials of the Khmer Republic (including both civil servants and former military personnel and their families), occurring throughout Cambodia from the early stages of CPK control over certain parts of the territory before 1975 and continuing until at least 6 January 1979. 

206. The Co-Investigating Judges are seized of treatment of the Cham in the Central, East and Northwest Zones; of the Vietnamese in Prey Veng and Svay Rieng Provinces in the East Zone and during incursions into Vietnam; of Buddhists throughout Democratic Kampuchea; and of former officials of the Khmer Republic during the movement of the population from Phnom Penh. This last incident constitutes only one of several occurrences of a pattern of targeting former officials of the Khmer Republic.

207. An objective of this policy was to establish an atheistic and homogenous society without class divisions, abolishing all ethnic, national, religious, racial, class and cultural differences. This is evidenced through Party documents relating to class. In 1974, an article written by Pol Pot in Revolutionary Flag set forth the notion that a “special class” existed in Cambodian society, comprised of “soldiers, police and Buddhist monks”. The notebooks of cadre that appear to refer to this article state that all national minorities were also considered to be part of this “separate special class type”. Other classes such as the feudalists, capitalists and bourgeois were described as opponents of the revolution. In September 1975, the implementation of this objective evolved when the CPK proclaimed these classes and the special separate class types abolished, declaring that the only classes that existed were workers and peasants, and that all of the other classes had been melded into these two groups. At this time, or shortly thereafter, Phnom Penh radio made its last references to Buddhist monks, Cham and other “national minorities”. Although senior Party authorities continued to talk about a Cambodian population incorporating non-Khmer nationalities into 1976, by August 1977, the national minorities’ de facto abolition and assimilation was officially stated to have advanced to the point where the country was described as “99 per cent” Khmer. Another objective of this policy was to eliminate enemies and to destroy certain groups, as such, in whole or in part. The targeting of specific groups was a key means by which the CPK did “whatever can be done that is a gain for the revolution”.

Dates and Participation
211. With respect to the Cham, this policy began as early as 1970 in some areas and escalated throughout the CPK regime until at least 6 January 1979. Forced displacement of Cham villages began in approximately 1973 and escalated after 1975, with some Cham being dispersed through ethnic Khmer villages. Telegram #15 dated November 1975 describes a decision of the CPK Centre regarding the policy to “break up” the Cham through displacement. Throughout the CPK regime, the CPK prohibited the Cham from practising their religion. The CPK imprisoned or killed Cham religious leaders and elders and Cham people who protested or continued to practice their religion. The CPK also prohibited the Cham culture, language and dress. 

212. Beyond religious persecution, beginning in 1977 and generally from mid-1978, the CPK adopted a policy of destroying the Cham as a group in those parts of Cambodia where most Cham then lived. Mass executions of Cham occurred in 1977 and 1978 in the Central (Old North) Zone and East Zone. Witnesses gave evidence that the Cham were considered to be an enemy of the revolution and that the CPK intended to destroy the group by 1980. There is evidence that Ke Pork, Secretary of the Central Zone and a member of the Central Committee and Centre Military Committee, and the district secretaries of the East and Central Zones personally participated in the destruction of the Cham along with Centre and other military units.74


Treatment of the Cham
745. The Cham are an ethnic minority within Cambodia who share a common language, a common culture and Islam as a common religion. The Cham people self-identify as Cham and are identified as such by others outside the group.

746. Prior to 1975, many Cham lived along the Mekong River in Kampong Cham Province. Large communities of Cham lived in Kroch Chhmar District and Kang Meas District.

747. The Demographic Expert Report: CPK Victims in Cambodia, April 1975 – January 1979, A Critical Assessment of Major Estimates concludes that 36% of the Cham population in Cambodia perished during the regime (compared to a death rate of 18.7% for Khmers).

Pre-1975 Policy Towards Cham
748. From around 1970, the CPK exerted control over increasingly large parts of Kampong Cham Province, including many areas inhabited by Cham.

749. At first the CPK appeared to support Islam. Before 1975, some Cham joined the CPK, for example, [REDACTED], a Cham man, was a member of the Tboung Khmum District Committee in Kampong Cham and a Member of the Standing Committee of the People’s
Representative Assembly of Kampuchea (he fled Cambodia and crossed the border into Vietnam in May 1978). Some other Cham people were cadre at S-21 (though all were killed in 1977 and 1978).

750. The CPK began to indoctrinate the Cham against the values of religious practice in general and curtail their freedom to practice Islam in particular. One witness states that in 1974, the Cham were announced by the CPK to be “enemy number one”.

751. The CPK appears to have begun targeted expulsions of Cham villages in approximately 1973. Sometimes only the religious leaders and those well-educated in Islam were expelled, on other occasions the majority of the village was evacuated, leaving only a few Cham families in each village. The Cham were expelled to various provinces in Cambodia.

752. Prior to 1975, some Cham were arrested, detained, tortured and killed. In 1970 or 1971, a security centre was established in Kroch Chhmar, which had a particular role with respect to Cham as set out below. The CPK targeted Cham religious leaders for arrest as well as Cham who protested about the curtailment of their religious freedom. Witnesses from Kroch Chhmar District, Kampong Cham stated that between 100 and 200 Cham people were arrested and had disappeared from their villages by around 1975 and that the decision to arrest them was made at provincial level or higher.

Treatment of the Cham 1975-1977

753. At a conference of political and military cadre ranging from the Centre down to the lower levels (until the district level) in May 1975, Pol Pot and Nuon Chea effectively called for the abolition of the Cham religion, presenting policies which included the abolition of all religions that were deemed reactionary. Nevertheless the CPK continued via public radio broadcasts to formally treat the Cham as “Moslem Cambodians” and proclaiming their freedom of religion. However, after October 1975, all public mention of them by the radio ceased in the context of a wider denial of the existence of any national minority groups in Cambodia. Although senior Party leaders and official publications continued to speak of a Cambodian people as “the Kampuchean nation and the Kampuchean people that included both ethnic Khmer and other nationalities”, such talk evidently ceased at some point in 1976. This followed the promulgation of the Democratic Kampuchea constitution of January 1976 which was silent about the existence of minority groups.

754. Chapter 15, Article 20 of the Constitution of Democratic Kampuchea purported to regulate religion by stating “[e]very citizen of Kampuchea has the right to worship according to any religion and the right not to worship according to any religion. Reactionary religions which are detrimental to Democratic Kampuchea and Kampuchean people are absolutely forbidden”. Duch gave evidence to the Co-Investigating Judges that the CPK Constitution was “deceitfully written” and that this article was “a lie”. This is corroborated by [REDACTED], who states “when they issued the Constitution they said that all religions were reactionary”.

755. The Cham sometimes attempted to complain about the prohibition on their religion by invoking the Constitution. According to weekly report from CPK Sector 5 in the Northwest Zone, which was sent to Brother Zone Secretary, M-560 and Archives, the “17 April elements from Phnom Penh who were Cham nationals” protested against the food which was imposed on them by the cooperative kitchen and referred to the Constitution. The author of the report states that: “for this situation, we have taken special measures, that is, look for their string, look for the head of their movement in order to sweep clean”.

756. Witnesses (Cham and non-Cham) from throughout Cambodia consistently state that the CPK banned the practice of Islam and forbade the Cham from praying, seized and burned Qurans, closed or destroyed mosques, or used them for other purposes such as communal dining halls, store houses, or facilities for pigs. Many witnesses (with the exception of three amongst them) state that Cham were forced to eat pork. Religious leaders and learned Islamic scholars were arrested and/or killed. Cham women were forced to cut their hair and were prohibited from covering their heads. The Cham language was prohibited. Cham traditional dress was prohibited.

757. According to some witnesses, the orders to attack the Cham culture came from “Angkar”, from “the highest organization”, from “village and section leader”, and from “the village leader and quarter leader”, and any Cham who refused to follow the directives of the CPK would be beaten, arrested and/or killed.

758. In September and October 1975, two Cham rebellions occurred within weeks of each other in two villages in the Kroch Chhmar District of Kampong Cham Province: in Koh Phal Village (an island in the Mekong River, Peus I Subdistrict), and in Svay Khleang Village (Svay Khleang Subdistrict). Witnesses state that after the rebellions, the persecution towards the Cham significantly increased. Many people were arrested, whole villages were moved away, dispersed amongst ethnically Khmer villages and the male heads of many households were killed. The Koh Phal Village Chairman estimates that out of the 1,864 original residents of Koh Phal, only 183 survived the regime. Another witness estimated that out of 1,306 original residents, 267 survived.

759. One witness states that in 1972 he had been asked to prepare population statistics of Villages 5 and 6 of Svay Khleang Subdistrict. He explains that in 1972 there were 1,242 families in these villages, but in 1979 only 170 families remained.

760. It appears that district and subdistrict CPK cadres were involved in the suppression of the rebellions.

761. A number of documents from this period suggest that there were lines of communication from the lower levels to the upper echelon and that the activities of Cham people at the grassroots level were communicated to the upper echelon, including to Nuon Chea. A telegram entitled “Telegram 15” dated 30 November 1975 outlines the CPK upper echelon’s policy to “break up” the Cham and forcibly transfer them from the East Zone to the North Zone. This telegram was sent to Pol Pot and copied to, amongst others, Nuon Chea. The authenticity of Telegram 15 was confirmed by a witness who worked translating telegrams for Centre Office K-1 during the regime, who states that the Chairman of the Telegram Unit made the decision to copy this telegram to Nuon Chea, adding that the Standing Committee may have been involved in solving this problem.

Treatment of the Cham 1977-1979
762. Some witnesses state that they observed that Cham people were treated much the same as everybody else, or that they were not arrested or killed or that the prohibition on religion was the only mistreatment of the Cham. In particular, at the 1st January Dam worksite, three witnesses stated that Cham lived in the same conditions as the Khmer workers. However, one of these witnesses qualified their evidence by stating that if they were seen to practice Islam “they would take them away and kill them” and that most of the people killed were “new people or Cham”. Other witnesses from this site stated that Cham were considered to be even lower than the 17 April people. Three witnesses from this site stated that the Cham religion was prohibited.

763. During 1977 and 1978 many witnesses describe seeing waves of killings of Cham people in the Central (Old North) Zone and East Zone.

764. These events appear to have been coordinated by the Centre authorities. Ke Pork was the Secretary of the Central (Old North) Zoneand a member of the Central Committee and of its Military Committee. With respect to security matters, he was under Son Sen, Pol Pot and Nuon Chea’s supervision. Duch gave evidence that Pork came “many times to Phnom Penh” in 1977. A witness who worked as Pork’s telegraph cadre gave evidence that liaisons between Pork and the Centre increased in frequency in 1978, specifying in particular that he received more telegrams than had previously been usual. This witness further recalls that at this time the Centre installed special new telegraph machinery making it possible for the Central (Old North) Zone to communicate to the Centre from six in the morning until midnight. At the same time, he says, telegrams were sent more often from the sectors to the zone.

765. One witness states that he was called to a meeting in 1977 in Bos Khnor Village, Chamkar Leu District, Kampong Cham Province, Sector 41, Central (Old North) Zone. He states that the agenda for the meeting was to specify a plan called “The Plan to Smash the Enemy” and that the chairman of the meeting declared “the enemies of the revolution are many, but our biggest enemy are Cham. So the Plan calls for the destruction of all the Cham people before 1980”. This same witness states that he was subsequently assigned to meet with the Chairman of O-Nung Subdistrict, Chamkar Leu District. Whilst waiting for the Chairman to arrive he saw a small 16 page book with a light yellow cover called “The Plan for Progressive Cooperation” which read “Cham are the biggest enemy who must be totally smashed by 1980”.

766. Another witness gives evidence that, in 1977, he was told by a security cadre from Sector 21 of the East Zone that “the remaining Cham people would soon be killed”. Other witnesses observed that“measures were taken against those who were not Khmer, and the Chams in particular” or that there were orders to “gather up all the believers in Islam”. Another witness states that he woke up one day and that “all the Cham of his village had suddenly disappeared”. Out of the 10 Cham families in his village, only one person survived, only because she had been out of the village in a district mobile unit, when the attack took place.

767. [REDACTED], District Secretary of Kroch Chhmar District since 1978 (and as such, presented, as being responsible for the mass killings of Cham people in the Kroch Chhmar District) gives evidence that in 1978 there was a “rebellion” of Cham and Khmer in Kroch Chhmar. The Subdistrict Committee reported the rebellion to the District Committee, who in turn, reported to the Sector Committee. The Sector Committee gave initial orders to arrest and detain the “rebels”. [REDACTED] states “[l]ater on, the upper echelon made one annotation to the district in red ink reading: ’all of the rebels must be smashed’”. The witness states that he travelled by boat to where the rebels were being detained and gave the upper echelon’s order to the military commander in charge, and that the rebels were hit with clubs and buried in mass graves, with between 20 – 30 people in each pit.

768. Another witness states that, “they searched out the Cham so they could wipe out every last one of us. The eight members of my family were all killed I was the sole exception because I disguised myself as being of another race”. Another witness, who states that there were approximately 100 Cham families in his subdistrict, describes the situation as follows: “I did not see the killings, just saw the Khmer Rouge coming to call one family away at a time, and the Cham population became less and less. Later on, they gathered them all. The Cham people were arrested in 1978”.

769. Another witness states that he overheard a meeting in late 1978, between Ke Pork and the district secretaries of the East and Central (Old North) Zones. The meeting was held in the Sandan District of Kampong Thom Province. The witness states he could also hear what was being said during the meeting because they were using a public address system inside. At one point during the meeting, Ke Pork asked the District Secretary of Kroch Chhmar, “the plan set out by the Party, what percentage has been completed? … You must destroy the Cham [in the] mobile forces first; they are all traitors”.

770. [REDACTED] confirms that the Cham were targeted for killing in 1978 but denies that the Central (Old North) Zone cadre were involved in the killings. The evidence of this witness is inconsistent with witnesses who implicate the Central (Old North) Zone cadre in the killings of Cham in Kroch Chhmar District.


Wat Au Trakuon Security Centre, Central (Old North) Zone
776. Wat Au Trakuon was the Kang Meas District Security Centre and execution site, situated in Sambaur Meas Village, Peam Chikang Subdistrict, Kang Meas District, Kampong Cham Province. Applying the CPK’s system of identifying administrative boundaries, this security centre was within Sector 41 of the Central (Old North) Zone.

777. The pagoda compound was approximately 170m by 200m and was bounded by a barbed wire fence. The area of three hectares immediately to the east of the compound was used as an execution and burial site for prisoners from the security centre. It appears to have been established in 1975 or 1976 and operational at a minimum through 1977.

778. The chairmen of the security centre were [REDACTED] and [REDACTED], who was a member of the Kang Meas District Committee. Other witnesses identify [REDACTED] as being a member of the leadership of the security centre. [REDACTED], who was the District Committee Secretary, and his wife [REDACTED], who was his Deputy Secretary were also involved with the security centre.

779. The detainees included new people, base people and Cham. In around 1977, CPK cadre arrested all the Cham people throughout the Kang Meas District and took them to Wat Au Trakuon; done with the assistance of the “Long Sword Militia”. One witness assisted the Long Sword Militia (a militia group created by cadre of the Southwest Zone),  to arrest all the Cham in Sambuor Meas (Ka) Village, Sambuor Meas (Kha) Village and Sach Sau Village in Kang Meas District. This witness states that he and three other men assisted the militia group to arrest approximately 300 Cham men, women and children. After the arrests were complete, the militia group left the witness and his team to march the Cham prisoners to the security centre at Wat Au Trakuon where these Cham were all killed. The witness states that these arrests and killings were conducted on the orders of the District Secretary.

780. This account is corroborated by two witnesses who state that in late 1976 or early 1977, all the Cham in Sach Sau Village, Kang Meas District were arrested and taken to Wat Au Trakuon. These witnesses did not see any killings but one witness was told by militia coming out of the pagoda that all the Cham were killed. Another witness states that there were between 20 and 30 Cham from Sach Sau Village in his mobile unit, but in early 1977 they were all arrested by district security personnel from Au Trakuon and none are still alive.

781. Another witness, who was a member of the Long Sword Militia, saw prisoners with their arms tied behind them being marched from Sambuor Meas Ka Village. This witness states that all of the Cham in this village were targeted and arrested. This is corroborated by a witness who states that all the Cham in Sambuor Meas were arrested, taken to Wat Au Trakuon and killed.

782. Another witness was personally involved in transporting over a thousand people by boat to Wat Au Trakuon. He states that these people, including 600 male adolescents and 400 female adolescents from the mobile units, were tied up, driven to a dock around 500 metres from Wat Au Trakuon, and then walked in groups to be killed at the site. When this witness was asked whether these people included Cham, he replied that he “could not distinguish between the Cham and the Khmer” despite the fact that this witness is Cham himself. When asked where the people were taken from to be killed at the site, this witness stated that in his village, all Cham people were killed.

783. It appears that, when arrested, Cham people were not detained at all, but killed immediately. One witness states that the site did not have cells to detain prisoners, but that they were all “killed right away at night”. Other witnesses noted that the killings were done at night time and a loudspeaker played revolutionary songs whilst the killings took place. Witnesses heard the sounds of people being hit with clubs and screaming coming from the site. In 1979, witnesses saw corpses and grave pits at the site. One witness who saw grave pits in 1979 estimates that approximately 10,000 people had been killed there. Another witness, who states that he had seen the prisoner lists for Wat Au Trakuon, estimates that approximately 30,000 people had been killed there.

Trea Village Security Centre, Kroch Chhmar District, East Zone
784. Trea Village Security Centre was situated in Trea Village, Trea Subdistrict, Kroch Chhmar District, Kampong Cham Province, applying the CPK’s system of identifying administrative boundaries, the security centre was located in Sector 21 of the East Zone. A converted residential wooden house used to detain prisoners, and the execution and burial site consisted of a field to the west of the security centre, adjacent to the Mekong River.

785. In mid-1978, many Cham were taken in groups from around Kroch Chhmar and the mobile labour units to the Trea Village Security Centre. Once at the security centre each person in the group was asked to identify if they were Cham, Khmer or “mixed race”. One Cham witness, who was arrested in July 1978, describes the situation as follows: “Then a cadre shouted the order, ‘Cham to one side, Khmer to the other, and mixed race to another.’ I had already lied and said I was Khmer, so I had to go to the Khmer side. Fifteen others who had given the same answer were standing with me. Besides us there were twenty girls separated into two other groups, those self-declared “Cham” and all others, who were [supposedly] of ‘mixed race.’ My first cousin Teicheu was with the mixed race group. In fact all thirty-six girls were good friends of mine and we were all pure Cham. The lying was done for the sake of survival. Four or five minutes later, the ‘mixed race’ girls were taken from the house one at a time. The cadres said they were being taken to be given food to eat. I looked out through the cracks in the wall boards to see where they were going. The sun was already down, but I could still see in the light of the moon. I saw a cadre walking one girl to a pit only 8 metres from the house. A plank stretched across the pit. The cadre laid the girl face down on the board and cut her throat from behind with a shiny blade and dropped the body into the pit. The pit was not very deep. I could see the girl’s hands and feet twitching up and down. Then another girl was killed the same way. One after another they died”. This witness also states that some girls might have been raped before they were killed because she heard some girls scream out “do not rape me”.

786. This account is corroborated by other witnesses who were taken to the same security centre in 1978. Speaking with reference to the Kroch Chhmar District Secretary mentioned above, one witness stated: “then [REDACTED] asked each one of us, ‘What is your race?’ The first to answer admitted the truth that she was Cham, and others followed her response. Then my turn came, toward the end. I lied and said I was Khmer. [REDACTED] pulled me off to one wall. Seeing that, the next ten girls after me also claimed ‘Khmer’ and were put alongside me”. The witness states that all those who had answered that they were Cham were taken away by CPK militias, each of them carrying AK-47 rifle and a hooked knife.

787. Another witness, who had been sent to Trea Village with his family states that CPK cadres demanded to know who was Khmer and who was Cham. “Some claimed they were Khmer, and they were beaten with gun stocks. When they could not stand the beating any more, they admitted they were Cham. The cadres were only testing us; they had known we were Cham all along”.  This witness watched CPK cadres drowning groups of Cham men in the river adjacent to the security centre. He states that they were drowned in groups of 30 by being tied to a boat and pulled into the river and that the boat “kept repeating this over and over throughout the entire day”.
788. One witness, who was a native of Trea Village, states that when he returned to Trea Village about one month after the fall of the CPK regime, he found several grave pits at a location near the river bank. He states that he and other villagers dug up the graves to look for valuable objects and that he saw “more than 20 pits. The biggest pit was about three metres in square, in which it contained from 20 to 30 corpses; the smaller pit contained less than 20 corpses”. Another witness states that there were “hundreds” of bodies found in the pits in 1979.

789. Two witnesses give evidence that the arrests and killings at Trea Village were conducted on the orders of the Kroch Chhmar District Secretary, [REDACTED].


1336. As regards the actus reus, people who belonged to the Cham group (an ethnic and religious group that distinguishes itself as such, and is identified as such by others) were systematically killed. 

1337. The principal method of this killing as an act of genocide was the deliberate and systematic identifying, targeting, gathering and killing of people due to their membership of the Cham group. A common technique was to arrest or gather all of the Cham people from a particular region and take them to be killed in groups at an execution site. The victims were targeted because of their membership of the Cham group; they were generally not detained for any length of time or made to provide confessions, instead they were killed immediately, often after being asked to confirm that they were Cham.  

1338. As regards the mens rea, the perpetrators intended to destroy, in whole or in part, the Cham group as such. Killings were committed in the context of statements commenting on the objective to physically destroy the group in its entirety; the Cham were systematically and methodically targeted and killed on account of their membership of the Cham group, and other non-Cham people were specifically and expressly excluded from the attacks.  

1339. Senior leaders of the CPK shared this intent to destroy, in whole or in part, the Cham group as such. The plan to destroy the Cham as a group was a plan set out by the Party, with the order being given to district level leaders to identify and target the group and kill them en masse

1340. The systematic nature, scale, pattern and repetition and timing of the killings of the Cham group in the East and Central (Old North) Zones clearly indicate that it was decided upon and coordinated by the CPK leaders within the framework of the common purpose. The fact that, in addition to the East Zone and the Central (Old North) Zone, the killings occurred across numerous zones during the same temporal period indicate that they were not unauthorized, random crimes committed by local cadres, but were centrally directed by the Party.  

1341. Additionally, the intention of the senior leaders of the CPK is inferred from the fact that the genocide of the Cham occurred in the general context of an escalating persecutory attack against the Cham directed by the CPK Centre. The CPK Centre directed a country-wide suppression of Cham culture, traditions and language, and forcibly moved Cham communities in an effort to break them up.  

1342. Although there is no numeric threshold of victims necessary to establish genocide, the evidence from the Case File shows that the portion of the Cham population killed during the acts of destruction targeting the Cham group is strong evidence of the intent to destroy the group, in whole or in part: following the Demographic Expert Report, 36% of the Cham people in Cambodia died during the regime, which is compared to the average rate of Khmer deaths being an estimated 18.7%.