Genocide In Cambodia (1975-1979)
By April 1975, a communist group known as the Khmer Rouge, led by Pol Pot, seized control of Cambodia,
renaming the country Democratic Kampuchea. Civil war had existed in Cambodia since 1970. During the
Vietnam War, the United States had been involved in Cambodian politics and supported the rise of Lon Nol as
the leader of Cambodia, which neighbored Vietnam. The United States also bombed much of the countryside of
Cambodia from 1970 until 1973. The Khmer Rouge used the United States’ actions to recruit followers and as
an excuse for the brutal policies they would implement once they seized power.
The Khmer Rouge’s polices were guided by its belief that the citizens of Cambodia had been tainted and
corrupted by exposure to outside ideas, especially those from the capitalist West. The Khmer Rouge persecuted
those who were educated, such as doctors and lawyers, and those who were or had been in the military or police
force. Its goal was to create a society in which no one competed against another and all people worked for the
common good. This was accomplished through placing people in collective living arrangements, or communes.
The country was divided into zones and regions, with strong control being held by the central government.
Within the regions, re-education programs were enacted so that people left the village lifestyle and accepted the
commune lifestyle. People were divided into categories that reflected the trust that the Khmer Rouge had for
them. The most trustworthy were called “old citizens.” The pro-West and city dwellers began as “new citizens”
and could move up to “deportees,” then “candidates” and finally “full rights citizens.” Most did not move from
one category to the other. Those who refused re-education were killed in the fields surrounding the commune or
at the infamous prison camp Tuol Sleng Centre (also known as S-21). For four years, the Khmer Rouge
imposed policies that led to the death of more than 1.7 million people through work, starvation and torture.
The Khmer Rouge was removed from power when communist Vietnam invaded in January 1979 and
established a pro-Vietnam regime in Cambodia. Many survivors fled to refugee camps in Thailand, where they
began to rebuild their lives. Of these, many came to the United States on sponsorship visas. More than 20 years
later, there is an attempt to bring those who committed these crimes to trial in Cambodia.
Many genocide scholars believe these events do not qualify as genocide under the United Nations Convention,
but instead call it an “auto-genocide” because it occurred across all of society instead of targeting one group.
Other Resources on This Topic
Β λ οοδ ανδ Σοιλ, βψ Βεν Κιερναν
Χ η ιλδρεν οφ Χαµβοδια σ Κιλλινγ Φιελδσ, βψ Κιµ ∆εΠαυλ
Ο ν τηε Ωινγσ οφ α Ωηιτε Ηορσε, βψ Ονι ςιτανδηαµ
Yale University Cambodian Genocide Program
Cambodian Genocide Group