In 1975, the Khmer Rouge gained control of the Cambodian government with the intent to transform Cambodia into a communist state. As a result, millions of civilians were evacuated from the cities into labor camps where an estimated 1.7 million died from starvation, torture, abuse and execution.
For four years, the Khmer Rouge under the control of former Prime Minister Pol Pot wreaked havoc in Cambodia, creating one of the most devastating mass killings in global history. While the atrocities today are widely known, there are still many facts about the Cambodian genocide that the general public does not know.
Important Facts About the Cambodian Genocide
- Unlike other genocides in which specific ethnic groups are targeted for execution, the Cambodian genocide had no exceptions and would single out doctors, teachers, minorities, people with an education, children and even babies.
- Pol Pot wanted the nation to revert to a self-sufficient way of living where money had no influence in society. This led to the forced evacuation of cities into the rural communities for a “fresh start.”
- Among the near two million dead were an estimated 100,000 Cham Muslims and 20,000 Vietnamese.
- While some facts about the Cambodian genocide gained international recognition, it lacked an international investigation due to the United States’ recent loss in the Vietnam War and the hesitance to become involved in the region again.
- In the years following the calamity, Cambodia began opening up to the international community again with survivors sharing their stories and recollections. With horrific facts about the Cambodian genocide coming to light, Hollywood created the movie “The Killing Fields” based off of victims’ firsthand experiences. This film brought worldwide attention to what was, just a few years earlier, internationally neglected.
- The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, otherwise known as the ECCC, was established in 1997 with the assistance of the United Nations. The purpose of the tribunal was to try the senior leaders of the Khmer Rouge for the mass crimes committed during the genocide.
- Pol Pot faced a show trial in 1997 where he was sentenced to house arrest. He died just less than a year later, never facing a real trial for his crimes and leaving millions of affected people without the chance to bring him to justice.
- Victims were allowed to actively participate in the trial proceedings as complainants and civil parties, giving them the satisfaction of justice being enforced. The amount of victims present during each case varied from 94 to 4,128.
- Throughout the trials, three offenders were convicted and four were charged for allegations pertaining to crimes against humanity, homicide, violations of the 1956 Cambodian Penal Code, breaches of the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and genocide.
- The closing statements for the final case lasted nine days in June 2017 and the final judgment is expected to be presented in 2018.
The Cambodian genocide itself may have only lasted four years but the effects from it will continue to last for years, decades and even centuries. The Cambodian people will continue to rebuild their nation and their own lives, working toward a better, more peaceful future.
– Samantha Harward