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The Cambodian Genocide: When Hell Is Unleashed on Earth

What happened at Cambodia was pure evil
What happened at Cambodia was pure evil
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The Cambodian Genocide is one of the most horrific yet, overlooked genocides in the world. Imagine living in fear daily, not knowing when you or your family might be next to be taken away, tortured, or killed. This was the reality for millions of Cambodians under the Khmer Rouge regime, which ruled the country from 1975 to 1979.

Led by the fanatical leader Pol Pot, the Khmer Rouge sought to create an agrarian utopia by forcing urban dwellers into rural labor camps and executing anyone deemed a threat to their vision.

The regime’s cruelty knew no bounds, with torture, forced labor, and starvation is commonplace. Even speaking a foreign language, wearing glasses, or displaying any sign of intellectualism could be enough to warrant execution.

The Khmer Rouge’s reign of terror left an estimated two million Cambodians to die during the Cambodian Genocide and traumatized countless others. Yet, the genocide remains relatively unknown compared to other genocides throughout history.

A Brief Summary of the Cambodian Genocide

The Cambodian Genocide was the systematic persecution and murder of Cambodian residents by the Khmer Rouge under the direction of Pol Pot, general secretary of the Communist Party of Kampuchea, who pushed Cambodia significantly towards a totally self-sufficient agrarian socialist state. Between 1975 and 1979, it caused the deaths of 1.5 to 2 million people, or almost a fifth of Cambodia’s population, in 1975.

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and its leader, Mao Zedong, had long supported Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge; it is claimed that at least 90% of the foreign funding the Khmer Rouge, which carried out the Cambodian Genocide, received originated in China, including at least US$1 billion in interest-free economic and military aid in 1975 alone.

A child soldier stands over a blindfolded soldier about to be executed

A child soldier stands over a blindfolded soldier about to be executed

The Khmer Rouge sought to establish an agricultural socialist republic based on ultra-Maoist principles and was influenced by the Cultural Revolution after seizing control of the nation in April 1975.

High-ranking CCP officials, including Politburo Standing Committee member Zhang Chunqiao, traveled to Cambodia to assist. In June 1975, Pol Pot and other Khmer Rouge leaders met with Mao in Beijing and received his support and guidance.

Forcing Cambodians to relocate to labor camps in the countryside, where mass executions, forced labor, physical abuse, hunger, and sickness were expected, the Khmer Rouge emptied the cities to achieve its objectives. Democratic Kampuchea is the new name the Khmer Rouge gave the nation in 1976.

The atrocities ceased when the Vietnamese military entered and overthrew the Khmer Rouge government in 1978. By January 1979, 1.5 to 2 million Cambodians had perished due to the Khmer Rouge’s policies, including 200,000–300,000 Chinese, 90,000–500,000 Cham (most Muslims), and 20,000 Vietnamese.

Twenty thousand people passed through Security Prison 21, one of the 196 prisons the Khmer Rouge administered, and just seven adults survived. The detainees were transported to the Killing Fields, where they were executed—often with pickaxes to conserve ammunition—and interred in mass graves.

A Thai border patrolman finds a dead child that was killed by Khmer Rouge soldiers.

A Thai border patrolman finds a dead child that was killed by Khmer Rouge soldiers. Original image can be accessed here.

Children were frequently abducted and indoctrinated, and many were coerced or forced to perform atrocities. The Documentation Center of Cambodia has identified 23,745 mass graves as of 2009, totaling over 1.3 million alleged execution victims.

Up to 60% of the Cambodian Genocide’s fatalities are thought to have been caused by direct execution, with the other victims dying from disease, malnutrition, or weariness.

A second wave of refugees fled the massacre, with many going to the nearby countries of Thailand and, to a lesser extent, Vietnam. The Cambodian government established the Khmer Rouge Tribunal in 2001 to prosecute the Khmer Rouge commanders accountable for the Cambodian Genocide.

Trials started in 2009, and in 2014 Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan were found guilty of crimes against humanity committed during the genocide and given life sentences.

How did the Cambodian Genocide Begin?

The Khmer Rouge formally began its nationwide insurrection in Cambodia in 1968. Although the Khmer Rouge had not informed the government of North Vietnam of their choice, after the insurgency started, North Vietnamese forces gave the Khmer Rouge sanctuary and weaponry. This laid the foundation for the Cambodian Genocide.

The Khmer Rouge’s insurgency was supported by North Vietnam, making it hard for the Cambodian forces to quell it successfully. Norodom Sihanouk did little to quell the rebellion during the following two years. Therefore, it expanded. The party openly identified as the Communist Party of Kampuchea as the rebellion gained momentum.

In 1970, Premier Lon Nol overthrew Sihanouk with the help of the National Assembly, establishing the pro-American Khmer Republic. Sihanouk, who was in exile in Beijing, joined forces with the Khmer Rouge on the recommendation of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and eventually rose to the position of nominal leader of the Khmer Rouge-dominated government-in-exile, known by its French acronym, GRUNK, which China supported.

Premier Lon Nol

Premier Lon Nol

The Nixon administration declared its support for the nascent Khmer Republic despite being well aware of the frailty of Lon Nol’s forces and unwilling to commit American military force to the new fight in any way other than air power.

North Vietnam began an operation against the Cambodian army on March 29, 1970. According to documents in the Soviet Union’s archives, conversations with Nuon Chea led to the invasion being carried out precisely at the Khmer Rouge’s request.

Large portions of eastern Cambodia were rapidly overrun by a North Vietnamese force, which advanced as close as 15 miles (24 km) from Phnom Penh before being repulsed. They had driven out the government soldiers from the whole northeastern third of the country by June, three months after Sihanouk’s overthrow.

Sihanouk embraces senior Khmer Rouge figure Khieu Samphan

Sihanouk embraces senior Khmer Rouge figure Khieu Samphan

After defeating opposing forces, the Vietnamese gave the local insurgents control of the newly captured territory. In the southern and southwestern regions of the nation, where they functioned independently of the Vietnamese, the Khmer Rouge also formed “liberated” territories.

Their numbers increased from 6,000 to 50,000 after Sihanouk supported the Khmer Rouge by visiting them in the field. Many newly enlisted Khmer Rouge soldiers were apolitical peasants who sided with the king rather than the communist cause, which they knew little about.

By 1975, it was obvious that Lon Nol’s administration was about to fall because it had run out of options after losing American support. The civil war ended when the Khmer Rouge took Phnom Penh on April 17, 1975. Estimates of deaths during the Cambodian Civil War range greatly.

Sihanouk cited a death toll from the civil war of 600,000, while Elizabeth Becker cited more than a million dead from the conflict, including military and civilians. Other researchers did not support such high estimations. According to Marek Sliwinski, the death toll likely ranges between 240,000 and 310,000.

He points out that many figures of the dead are debatable and may have been exploited for propaganda. The largest mortality that we can rationalize is 275,000 combat fatalities, according to Judith Banister and E. Paige Johnson. “Subsequent reevaluations of the demographic data positioned the death toll for the [civil war] in the order of 300,000 or fewer,” claims Patrick Heuveline.

American Bombing Campaign in Cambodia

A vast US bombing campaign against the Khmer Rouge before the Cambodian Genocide. This was from 1970 to 1973 and wreaked havoc on rural Cambodia. Operation Breakfast, a previous US bombing operation against Cambodia, started on March 18, 1969. However, the American bombing had already started years earlier.

It is contested and challenging to separate the number of Khmer Rouge and civilian deaths brought on by US bombing from the larger Cambodian Civil War. There are between 30,000 and 500,000 estimates.

Sliwinski calculates that U.S. bombing is responsible for roughly 17% of all civil war deaths, noting that this is a small proportion compared to other significant causes of death because U.S. bombing was focused in sparsely inhabited border regions.

President Nixon announces the entry of US troops into Cambodia.

President Nixon announces the entry of US troops into Cambodia.

Ben Kiernan says the American bombing is to blame for 50,000–150,000 deaths.

Historians have been interested in the connection between the United States’ extensive bombing of Cambodia and the expansion of the Khmer Rouge’s membership and popular support.

Some historians, including Michael Ignatieff, Adam Jones, and Greg Grandin, have attributed the United States’ intervention and bombing campaign from 1965 to 1973 as a crucial factor that led to greater sympathy for the Khmer Rouge among the Cambodian peasantry.

Ben Kiernan claims that without Cambodia’s economic and military destabilization by the United States, the Khmer Rouge “would not have come to power. It used the bombing’s destruction and massacre of civilians as recruitment propaganda and as a justification for its brutal, radical policies and purge of moderate communists and Sihanoukists.”

Pol Pot historian David P. Chandler believes that the bombardment “had the impact the Americans wanted—it shattered the Communist encirclement of Phnom Penh” but also expedited the breakdown of rural life and intensified societal divisiveness.

The US Bombing Cambodia

The US Bombing Cambodia

Craig Etcheson acknowledges that American intervention helped the Khmer Rouge recruit more people but denies that it was the main factor in the group’s success. William Shawcross asserts that the American ground invasion and bombing campaign threw Cambodia into the turmoil Sihanouk had spent years trying to avert.

The Ideology Behind the Cambodian Genocide

The Cambodian Genocide was significantly influenced by ideology. Marxism-Leninism significantly influenced Pol Pot, who desired to make Cambodia a self-sufficient agricultural communist society free of outside influences. It has been said that Stalin’s writing had a “crucial forming influence” on his thinking.

Mao’s writings, particularly On New Democracy, also significantly impacted. According to historian David Chandler, one of his favorite authors was Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

The goals of Pol Pot’s revised Marxism-Leninism, which he developed in the middle of the 1960s to fit the circumstances in Cambodia, included returning the country to a purported mythical past of the mighty Khmer Empire, eliminating corrupting influences like foreign aid and Western culture, and reestablishing an agrarian society.

The vile Cambodian dictator, Pol Pot

The vile Cambodian dictator, Pol Pot

While the Khmer Rouge rose to power, Pol Pot spent time in rural northeastern Cambodia, where he developed an appreciation for the agrarian self-sufficiency of the area’s isolated tribes. This experience strongly influenced his idea that Cambodia must become an agrarian utopia.

The subsequent slaughter was largely caused by attempts to incorporate these goals—formed by the observations of small, rural communes—into a broader community. According to a leader of the Khmer Rouge, the killings were carried out to “purify the populace.” Almost the whole population of Cambodia was divided up into mobile work teams by the Khmer Rouge.

It was “an experiment in mass mobilization unequaled in twentieth-century revolutions,” according to Michael Hunt. The Khmer Rouge deployed a cruel system of forced labor, malnutrition, relocation, land collectivization, and state terror to maintain order.

The “Maha Lout Ploh,” the Khmer Rouge’s economic strategy, was aptly called China’s “Great Leap Forward,” which resulted in the Great Chinese Famine and killed tens of millions of people.

A Ph.D. dissertation by Kenneth M. Quinn about the “Origins of The Radical Pol Pot Dictatorship” is “widely recognized as the first person to report on the homicidal policies of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge.” Quinn spent nine months (1973–1974) working as a Foreign Service Officer for the U.S. State Department in Southeast Asia along the South Vietnamese border.

Khmer Rouge flag

Khmer Rouge flag

Quinn “interviewed numerous Cambodian refugees who had survived the deadly Khmer Rouge grasp” while there. Quinn “authored a 40-page report about it, which was filed throughout the U.S. government” based on the collected interviews and the crimes he experienced.

He stated in the report that the totalitarian governments in Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union had “much in common” with the Khmer Rouge.

According to Quinn’s analysis of the Khmer Rouge, “what emerges as the explanation for the terror and violence that engulfed Cambodia during the 1970s is that a small group of estranged intellectuals, outraged by their perception of a wholly corrupt society and imbued with a Maoist plan to establish a pure socialist order in the shortest amount of time, recruited extremely young, poor, and envious cadres, instructed them in harsh and brutal methods learned from their superiors.

Child soldiers working for the Khmer Rouge show off their machine guns.

Child soldiers working for the Khmer Rouge show off their machine guns.

Ben Kiernan linked the Cambodian genocide to the Holocaust and the Armenian genocide committed by the Ottoman Empire and Nazi Germany during World War I and II. Even while each genocide was distinct, they all shared some characteristics, and racism played a significant role in the ideologies of all three regimes.

The Khmer Empire, Turkestan, and Lebensraum, respectively, were all three regimes that persecuted religious minorities and attempted to impose their rule through force. All three regimes “idealized their ethnic peasantry as the true ‘national’ class, the ethnic soil from which the new state grew.”

The Darkest History of Cambodia: The Cambodian Genocide

Anybody suspected of having ties to the old Cambodian government, as well as anyone suspected of having ties to other governments, as well as professionals, intellectuals, Buddhist monks, and members of ethnic minorities, were routinely detained and put to death under the Khmer Rouge rule.

For fear that they would fight against the Khmer Rouge, even individuals viewing intellectual traits, like wearing glasses or understanding many languages, were put to death. As a result, historians and journalists like William Branigin have referred to Pol Pot as “a homicidal despot.”

A child soldier with a human skull resting on the tip of his rifle.

A child soldier with a human skull resting on the tip of his rifle. Original image can be accessed here

The Cambodian Genocide was “the purest genocide of the Cold War era,” according to British professor Martin Shaw. Purges of Cambodia’s former military and political elite, business leaders, journalists, students, doctors, and attorneys, were carried out to purge the country’s society along racial, social, and political lines.

The word “autogenocide” was created to reflect the distinct nature of the Cambodian Genocide because the majority of the perpetrators and victims of the mass murder belonged to the same ethnic group. According to Samuel Totten, 25% of the urban Khmer population, or 500,000 people, and 16% of the rural Khmer population, or 825,000 people, perished under the Khmer Rouge’s rule.

This puts the killing at a scale comparable to the genocides of the Roma (25% of the Roma population of Europe perished, or 130,000 to 500 thousand people) and of Serbs (300 to 500 thousand Serbs) during the Holocaust.

Asian victims during the Cambodian Genocide

Other minorities persecuted and subjected to Cambodian Genocide included ethnic Vietnamese, ethnic Thai, ethnic Chinese, ethnic Cham, Christians from Cambodia, and others. Minority communities were forced to relocate, and the Khmer Rouge outlawed their languages.

The Khmer Rouge outlawed more than 20 minority groups, which made up about 15% of Cambodia’s population, by edict. Even though Pol Pot and his administration systematically targeted ethnic and religious minorities, the Khmer Rouge regime generally oppressed Cambodians.

Still, the persecution, torture, and murders carried out by the Khmer Rouge are regarded by the UN as acts of genocide.

Divergent views exist because researchers who visited Cambodia shortly after the Khmer Rouge regime was overthrown in 1979 asserted that the victims might have been murdered, given their living conditions.

A crowd gathers around a civilian who was run over by a tank used by the Khmer Rouge.

A crowd gathers around a civilian who was run over by a tank used by the Khmer Rouge.A crowd gathers around a civilian who was run over by a tank used by the Khmer Rouge. Original image can be accessed here.

Michael Vickery, for example, stated that the killings were “primarily the product of the spontaneous excesses of a resentful, undisciplined peasant army.”

Alexander Hinton backed up this argument by citing a former Khmer Rouge cadre who claimed that the killings were retaliation for the atrocities committed by Lon Nol’s soldiers when they murdered individuals known to be former Viet Minh agents before Pol Pot and the rise of the Khmer Rouge.

The recent research by Ben Kiernan has shown that Vickery was mistaken when he claimed that the estimated 20,000 Cham victims slain under the Khmer Rouge’s leadership of Cambodia disproved the charge of genocide against Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge.

According to documents recently published by the Documentation Center of Cambodia (DC-Cam), due to the discovery of the Khmer Rouge internal security documents that ordered the killings throughout Cambodia, the killings were a centralized and bureaucratic effort undertaken by the Khmer Rouge regime.

Yet, “indiscipline and spontaneity in the mass killings” also occurred occasionally. Etcheson has also established that a third of Cambodia’s population died due to systematic mass killings based on political affiliations, ethnicity, religion, and citizenship. As a result, the Khmer Rouge is responsible for committing the Cambodian Genocide.

Ethnic minorities were victims of the Khmer Rouge rule. However, David Chandler has claimed that this was not because the regime mainly targeted them because of their ancestry but because they were seen as the regime’s enemies.

Mass graves at Choeung Ek

Mass graves at Choeung Ek

To avoid any potential comparisons to Hitler, Chandler also rejects the phrases “chauvinism” and “genocide.” This demonstrates that Chandler rejects the claim that the Khmer Rouge regime committed the Cambodian Genocide.

Like Chandler, Michael Vickery rejects the Khmer Rouge rule’s atrocities as genocide; Vickery referred to the Khmer Rouge as a “chauvinist” regime because of its anti-Vietnam and anti-religion beliefs. Stephen Heder concurred that the Khmer Rouge was not responsible for the Cambodian Genocide and claimed that their atrocities were not racially motivated.

By citing instances from the history of the Cham people in Cambodia, Ben Kiernan argues that it was a genocide and disproves the claims of these three professors, just as an international tribunal did when it found Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan guilty of 92 and 87 charges of the same crime, respectively.

Vietnamese victims of the Cambodian Genocide

Officially, the Khmer Rouge blamed minority groups for the nation’s problems, particularly the Cham and the Vietnamese. First ordering the deportation of ethnic Vietnamese from Cambodia, the authorities then carried out mass killings of Vietnamese people who were being expelled from the country.

The dictatorship stopped the remaining 20,000 Vietnamese Americans from leaving, and many of this population were also put to death. Also, the Khmer Rouge supported their plans for the Cambodian Genocide through the media.

Phnom Penh in 1970

Phnom Penh in 1970

Cambodians were urged to “exterminate the 50 million Vietnamese” by Radio Phnom Penh.

The Khmer Rouge also carried numerous cross-border assaults into Vietnam, where they are believed to have killed 30,000 Vietnamese citizens. Most notably, 3,157 Vietnamese citizens were murdered by the Khmer Rouge soldiers in the Ba Chc massacre in April 1978 when they crossed the border and entered the village.

The Vietnamese government took immediate action in response to this, which sparked the Cambodian-Vietnamese War that ultimately resulted in the defeat of the Khmer Rouge.

Chinese victims of the Cambodian Genocide

According to reports, the Khmer Rouge regime’s authority over Chinese Cambodians was “the biggest calamity ever to befall any ethnic Chinese community in Southeast Asia.” With the excuse that they “used to exploit the Cambodian people,” the Khmer Rouge killed Cambodians of Chinese heritage during the Cambodian Genocide.

Due to their lighter skin tone and cultural distinctions, the Chinese historically garnered animosity and were portrayed as traders and moneylenders who supported capitalism. In 1978, hundreds of families from the Cham, Chinese, and Khmer ethnic groups were picked up and promised they would be relocated, but they were put to death.

US soldiers burn a wooden structure in a village in eastern Cambodia in May 1970

US soldiers burn a wooden structure in a village in eastern Cambodia in May 1970

There were 425,000 Chinese people in Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge regime’s rule in 1975. There were only 200,000 by the end of 1979, the majority of whom were stranded in refugee camps in Thailand and the remainder in Cambodia.

170,000 Chinese left Cambodia for Vietnam, while others were sent back home. The Khmer Rouge’s revolutionary ruralism and its exodus of city populations to farms left the Chinese, who tended to live in cities, exposed.

Despite being aware of the crimes and denouncing the Vietnamese government’s treatment of ethnic Chinese who resided in Vietnam at the same time, the government of the People’s Republic of China did not object to the killings of ethnic Chinese in Cambodia.

Children During the Cambodian Genocide

To execute mass murder and other atrocities during and after the Cambodian Genocide, the Khmer Rouge took advantage of thousands of desensitized, conscripted youngsters in their early teens. Children who had been indoctrinated were instructed to obey orders without question.

Until 1998, the organization utilized kids heavily, frequently recruiting them against their will. The youngsters served mainly in unpaid support tasks, such as carrying ammo and combat positions.

Even though local commanders regularly refused to pay them, many young people who had fled the Khmer Rouge and could not provide for themselves thought joining government forces would help them survive.

Extreme Torture during the Cambodian Genocide

Performing cruel medical experiments on captives under the rule of the Khmer Rouge is another well-known practice. Individuals were jailed and tortured because they were thought to oppose the dictatorship or because other detainees had revealed their names while being tortured.

The Khmer Rouge tortured entire families, including women and children, because they believed that if they did not, the relatives of their intended victims would seek retribution. “If you want to kill the grass, you also have to kill the roots,” Pol Pot once said.

Mass grave in Choeung Ek

Mass grave in Choeung Ek

Most prisoners had no idea why they were being held behind bars. If they dared inquire of the prison staff, they would only respond that Angkar (the Communist Party of Kampuchea) never makes errors, implying that they must have committed a crime.

The S-21 records and the trial documents contain numerous accounts of torture; according to Bou Meng, a survivor, the tortures were so horrendous and heinous that the prisoners tried to commit suicide in every possible way, even using spoons.

Their hands were constantly bound behind their backs to prevent them from doing either. They were blindfolded and sent to the Killing Fields. In this mass cemetery, inmates were executed at night with metal instruments like scythes, nails, and hammers when they thought they could not supply any more important information (since bullets were too expensive).

Their shouts were frequently muffled by generator noise and loudspeakers blasting Democratic Kampuchea propaganda music.

Babies and young children received a different treatment inside S-21; they were separated from their mothers and other family members and transferred to the Killing Fields, where they were slammed against the fabled Chankiri Tree.

Babies from other jails dispersed throughout Democratic Kampuchea, like S-21, are rumored to have received a similar treatment. A few Westerners imprisoned by the dictatorship were also present in S-21.

Before being turned into a political prison, Security Prison 21 was a school

Before being turned into a political prison, Security Prison 21 was a school

One was John Dawson Dewhirst, a British instructor whom the Khmer Rouge took prisoner while he was on a yacht. Kang Kek Iew (“Comrade Duch”) refuted claims made by one S-21 guard, Cheam Soeu, that one of the Westerners had been burned alive.

No one would dare to disobey his order; he claimed that Pol Pot had asked him to burn their corpses once they passed away. The purpose of torture was to delight the jail guards as much as to coerce confessions from the detainees. If they cared for the detainees, they feared they would become prisoners.

The Phnom Penh Medical Faculty’s library was burned during the Khmer Rouge, and the prior doctors were either killed or transferred to the countryside to work as farmers. Then, the regime recruited young teenagers with little to no training as child medics.

They had to conduct their medical experiments and advance independently because they lacked access to Western medicine (which had been outlawed because it was viewed as a capitalist innovation).

The Khmer Rouge required Cambodia to be self-sufficient. Thus, they could not access Western pharmaceuticals, and all medical experiments were routinely carried out without the requisite anesthetics.

Killing tree of Choeung Ek where executioners beat children to death

Killing tree of Choeung Ek where executioners beat children to death

A 17-year-old girl had her neck cut and abdomen perforated before pummeling and submerged in water for the night, according to a medic who worked inside S-21. Several times, this treatment was performed without the use of anesthesia.

Child doctors ripped off the intestines of a living, non-consenting individual and joined their ends in a hospital in the province of Kampong Cham to research the healing process. The “surgery” caused the patient to pass away three days later.

Other “physicians” trained by the Khmer Rouge in the same hospital opened the chest of a live patient only to observe the heart beating. The patient passed away right away as a result of the procedure.

Other testimonies and the Khmer Rouge policy show that these incidents were not singular. They also conducted drug tests, such as injecting coconut water into a live subject and observing the results.

A woman rides a bicycle by a stack of destroyed cars, cast aside by the Khmer Rouge as of symbol of the bourgeoisie.

A woman rides a bicycle by a stack of destroyed cars, cast aside by the Khmer Rouge as of symbol of the bourgeoisie.

Injections of coconut water are frequently fatal. A witness at a tribunal hearing also revealed that he witnessed hospital staff in the province of Tbong Khmum performing experiments on the wives of jailed cadre during the late hours of the night when it was quiet.

Some stories claimed that a liquid put into the victims’ bodies after being sliced open might have been coconut fluid.

The Estimated Victims of the Cambodian Genocide

According to Ben Kiernan, between 21% and 24% of Cambodia’s population in 1975 perished during the Cambodian Genocide due to Khmer Rouge policies, or between 1.671 million and 1.871 million people.

Out of a population of 7.8 million in 1975, a study by French demographer Marek Sliwinski estimated that fewer than 2 million died unnaturally under the Khmer Rouge. However, according to a 2013 academic source, the probable number of execution victims may have been as high as 1.3 million, with 23,745 mass graves housing them.

Craig Etcheson of the Documentation Center of Cambodia (DC-Cam) defended estimates of over one million executions as “plausible, given the nature of the mass grave and DC-methods, Cam’s which are more likely to produce an under-count of bodies rather than an over-estimate” even though they are significantly higher than earlier and more widely accepted estimates of Khmer Rouge executions.

A terrified prisoner is photographed inside the Tuol Sleng prison.

A terrified prisoner is photographed inside the Tuol Sleng prison.

From 1970 to 1979, between 1.17 million and 3.42 million Cambodians perished unnaturally, with 150,000 and 300,000 of those deaths happening during the civil war, according to demographer Patrick Heuveline’s estimate. Heuveline’s main estimate puts the number of extra deaths at 2.52 million, of which 1.4 million were directly related to violence.

The 3.3 million deaths published by the People’s Republic of Kampuchea (PRK), the Khmer Rouge’s successor regime, is generally regarded as an exaggeration despite being based on a house-to-house survey of Cambodians.

Among other methodological errors, the PRK authorities added the estimated number of victims found in the partially-exhumed mass graves to the raw survey results, meaning that some victims would have been double-counted.

A Detailed Information on the Killing Fields of Cambodia

The Khmer Rouge regime’s legal system for infractions of a minor or political nature started with a warning from the Angkar, the country of Cambodia at the time. More than two warnings resulted in “re-education,” which almost always resulted in death.

People were frequently persuaded to confess to Angkar their “pre-revolutionary lifestyles and crimes” (which typically involved engaging in free-market activity, having contact with a foreign source, such as a U.S. missionary, international relief, or government agency, or contact with any foreigner or with the outside world at all), under the assurance that Angkar would pardon them and “wipe the slate clean.”

After that, they were transported to locations like Choeung Ek or Tuol Sleng for torture or execution.

Machines used for torture at the Security Prison 21

Machines used for torture at the Security Prison 21

Mass graves held the bodies of the executed. The executions were frequently carried out with poison or improvised weapons, including sharpened bamboo poles, hammers, machetes, and axes to conserve ammunition.

The Buddhist Memorial Stupa at Choeung Ek contains skulls to prove that these weapons have harmed as proof that bayonets, knives, wooden clubs, farming hoes, and curved scythes were used to slaughter victims.

Children and babies of adult victims were occasionally slain by having their heads pounded against Chankiri tree trunks before being thrown into the pits with their parents. To “prevent children growing up and exacting revenge for the deaths of their parents” was the justification.

Some victims had to dig their graves, and because of their frailty, they frequently couldn’t dig very far. Most soldiers who carried out the executions were young people from rural households.

Charging The Perpetrators with Crimes Against Humanity

To establish a Cambodian Genocide tribunal, the Cambodian government requested assistance from the UN in 1997. Before the judges were sworn in, in 2006, it took nine years for the shape and organization of the court—a synthesis of Cambodian and international laws—to be agreed upon.

On July 18, 2007, the prosecution gave the investigating judges the names of five potential suspects. The Khmer Rouge’s most senior surviving member and second in command, Nuon Chea, was accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity on September 19, 2007.

Former Khmer Rouge leader Khieu Samphan denied that he was involved in the massacre

Former Khmer Rouge leader Khieu Samphan denied that he was involved in the massacre

He appeared before judges from Cambodia and outside in the particular genocide trial, where he was found guilty on August 7, 2014, and given a life sentence. The director of the S-21 prison camp, Kang Kek Iew (also known as Comrade Duch), was found guilty of crimes against humanity and given a 35-year prison term on July 26, 2010.

Because he had already served 11 years in prison, his sentence was lowered to 19 years. The Extraordinary Chambers increased his sentence in the Cambodian Courts to life in prison on February 2, 2012. On September 2, 2020, he passed away.

Legacy of the Cambodian Killing Fields

Choeung Ek is home to the Killing Fields’ most well-known memorial. Now, it is the location of a Buddhist memorial to the victims, and Tuol Sleng includes a museum remembering the genocide.

The mass graves of thousands of victims, most of whom were murdered during the Cambodian Genocide at the S-21 Prison in Phnom Penh, have been encircled by the memorial park at Choeung Ek.

Most of the people interred in Choeung Ek were Khmer Rouge members who died during the purges conducted by the government. Numerous mass graves are visible above ground, many of which have not yet been dug up.

Pol Pot's grave

Pol Pot’s grave

Due to the enormous number of bodies that are still buried in shallow mass graves, it is common for bones and clothing to surface after severe rains. When visiting the memorial park, finding the victims’ teeth or bones lying on the ground is not unusual.

RIP Victims.

Next, read about Buford Pusser, the Man Who Went for Vengeance. Or about the Horrifying Nazi Massacre of Oradour Sur Glane

 

 

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Written By

Abin Tom Sebastian, also known as Mr. Morbid in the community, is an avid fan of the paranormal and the dark history of the world. He believes that sharing these stories and histories are essential for the future generations. For god forbid, we have seen that those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. ndt

    July 27, 2023 at 6:35 pm

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