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. As hundreds of thousands of Cambodians fled into Thailand, the genocide intensified. Corrections? Get a Britannica Premium subscription and gain access to exclusive content. Members of the Khmer Rouge, however, were not the only political players on the rise. 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. This article was most recently revised and updated by, https://www.britannica.com/topic/Khmer-Rouge, Al Jazeera - Key facts on the Khmer Rouge, Khmer Rouge - Student Encyclopedia (Ages 11 and up). Let us know if you have suggestions to improve this article (requires login). Omissions? Members of the Khmer Rouge, the radical political regime behind the terror, invoked a dubious justification of their crimes by alleging that such actions would ultimately improve everyday peoples quality of life through the establishment of a more egalitarian society under communist rule. Cambodias civil war ended in 1975 when capital city Phnom Penh fell to the Khmer Rouge. What became known as The Killing Fields, where piles of decaying bodies littered the earth, notoriously bore witness to the genocide. Credit Adam Dean for The New York Times Image", "The Chinese Communist Party's Relationship with the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s: An Ideological Victory and a Strategic Failure | Wilson Center", "The question of genocide and Cambodia's Muslims", Philip Shenon, Phnom Penh Journal; Lord Buddha Returns, With Artists His Soldiers, "Chapter 6: Freedom Virtually Ends Genocide and Mass Murder", "Dealing with Cambodia's past and life nowadays", "Westerner was burned alive, says Cambodia trial witness", "For Khmer Rouge guard, it was kill or be killed", "Keeping Them Alive, One Gets Nothing; Killing Them, One Loses Nothing: Prosecuting Khmer Rouge Medical Practices as Crimes against Humanity", "Propaganda, Torture and French Colonial Heritage: Looking into the Methods of the Khmer Rouge | Cambodia Tribunal Monitor", "Barbarous KR medical experiments uncovered", "Tribunal Hears of Secret Medical Experiments", Cambodian Day of Hate Marks Pol Pot's Victims, "Death of Pol Pot: The Diplomacy; Pol Pot's End Won't Stop U.S. From 1970 to 1973, American bombs totaling hundreds of thousands of tons fell on Cambodia, often annihilating not just communist targets, but also helpless civilians. Former Khmer Rouge official Ieng Sary on trial in 2011 in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, for war crimes; he died before a verdict could be reached. Please refer to the appropriate style manual or other sources if you have any questions. Forced to seek refuge in Beijing, he became the figurehead for communist Khmer Rouge insurgents, whose cause was greatly aided when the United States bombed Cambodia in an attempt to suppress guerrilla activity. Now, nearly four decades after the atrocity, cases are still being brought to court in a sincere if belated effort to foster some sense of justice. The Cambodian people will continue to rebuild their nation and their own lives, working toward a better, more peaceful future. Pol Pot faced a show trial in 1997 where he was sentenced to house arrest. The death of Pol Pot and the surrender of the last of the Khmer Rouge soldiers did not occur until the turn of the century, and it was not until 2006 that formal criminal proceedings regarding the genocide began. Interested in participating in the Publishing Partner Program? 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. The Khmer Rouges rule over the next four years was marked by some of the worst excesses of any Marxist government in the 20th century, during which an estimated 1.5 million (and possibly up to 2 million) Cambodians died and many of the countrys professional and technical class were exterminated. Immediately after World War II, the Americans and the French fought wars against communism in Korea and Vietnam, respectively. Cambodia's previous military and political leadership, business leaders, journalists, students, doctors, lawyers. Other targets included Cham Muslims and anyone who could remotely be described as intellectual, which included anyone wearing spectacles or who could speak a foreign language. With the peasant lifestyle propped up as the new ideal for virtually everyone, urbanity and learning were actively disparaged, frequently to points of absurdity. It was purportedly set up in 1967 as the armed wing of the Communist Party of Kampuchea. Deprived of Buddhisms ancient wisdom for enduring hardships, Cambodians were now even more ill-equipped to survive. Be on the lookout for your Britannica newsletter to get trusted stories delivered right to your inbox. The French entered at mid-century, and a colonial system soon emerged. Let us know. The Tuol Sleng Prison became a centre for mass murder, and there were rural sitesreferred to as the Killing Fields, which is also the title of a 1984 film that brought the plight of Khmer Rouge victims to worldwide attentionwhere a huge number of people were executed. The military leader of the Khmer Rouge, Pol Pot, became the new governments prime minister. Pol Pot wanted the nation to revert to a self-sufficient way of living where money had no influence in society. The very notion of individual free choice was systematically demonized by the regime, which also condemned as traitorous any allegiance to more traditional authorities. Powerpoint Lecture. The situation in the East grew bloodier. The Khmer Rouge seized the opportunity to assume power by storming the city of Phnom Penh in April of 1975. 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. The totalitarian nature of the new government meant that Cambodians were expected to be loyal to the state above all, an ideal that by design worked to tear apart familial bonds. Updates? After a right-wing military coup toppled Sihanouk in 1970, however, the Khmer Rouge entered into a political coalition with him and began attracting increased support in the Cambodian countryside, a trend that was accelerated by the destructive U.S. bombing campaigns over Cambodia in the early 1970s. Enormous craters could be seen scattered across a land that remained one of the most underdeveloped in the world - the same land whose civilization had been one of the most advanced in the world several centuries earlier. From the 9th through 15th centuries, the Khmer Empire was based in Cambodia and ruled most of southeastern Asia. Cambodias constitutional monarchy under Prince Sihanouk remained neutral during the Vietnam War, until he was ousted in 1970 by an American-backed coup. In 1979, following the Khmer Rouges defeat at the hands of Vietnamese forces, Pol Pot, the movements de facto leader, fled into the jungles on Cambodias border with Thailand where he maintained the pretense of leading a legitimate government. Cambodian genocide, systematic murder of up to three million people in Cambodia from 1976 to 1978 that was carried out by the Khmer Rouge government under Pol Pot. The sheer volume of executions attests to a policy of widespread victimization and terror. Corrections? Cambodias independence bolstered optimism within its citizenry. Eventually, the simple act of wearing glasses was enough to mark a Cambodian as an intellectual, and thus as an enemy of the regime, deserving death. In the years following the calamity, Cambodia began opening up to the international community again with survivors sharing their stories and recollections. While the atrocities today are widely known, there are still many facts about the Cambodian genocide that the general public does not know. By the late 1950s the partys members were engaged in clandestine activities against the government of Prince Norodom Sihanouk, but for many years they made little headway against Sihanouk from their bases in remote jungle and mountain areas, partly because of Sihanouks own popularity among the peasants whom the communists sought to incite to rebellion. 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. Please refer to the appropriate style manual or other sources if you have any questions. https://www.britannica.com/event/Cambodian-Genocide. With horrific facts about the Cambodian genocide coming to light, Hollywood created the movie The Killing Fields based off of victims firsthand experiences. Victims were allowed to actively participate in the trial proceedings as complainants and civil parties, giving them the satisfaction of justice being enforced. In a civil war that continued for nearly five years from 1970, the Khmer Rouge gradually expanded the areas of the Cambodian countryside under their control. By signing up for this email, you are agreeing to news, offers, and information from Encyclopaedia Britannica. In merely a few years during the 1970s, perpetrators of the Cambodian Genocide murdered up to 3 million of their fellow countrymen and caused unimaginable suffering to a great number of others. The Huffington Post, https://borgenproject.org/wp-content/uploads/The_Borgen_Project_Logo_small.jpg, 10 Little-Known Facts About the Cambodian Genocide, Global Samaritans Brings Hope to Girls Education in Zambia. The regime was fiercely nationalistic and xenophobic. In 1970, the Cambodian monarchy was toppled when one of its ministers took power. Sihanouk is largely credited with inciting peasants to a successful rebellion against the French after the war, thereby establishing Cambodia as an independent state in 1955. This purportedly utopian pursuit has left the Cambodian people with a painful legacy, one that they are still struggling to overcome. In probably the most infamous example, one high school was converted into the S-21 Prison, where up to 20 thousand prisoners were tortured into writing confessions to crimes they had never committed. The amount of victims present during each case varied from 94 to 4,128. Rule under the Khmer Rouge immediately and intentionally transformed Cambodian life, declaring a Year Zero from which point life must completely change. The partys largely French-educated Marxist leaders eventually renamed it the Communist Party of Kampuchea. When he signed a treaty of friendship with Vietnamese communists, the United States halted its military and economic aid, crippling the Cambodian economy. Pol Pot died in 1998, and soon afterward the surviving leaders of the Khmer Rouge defected or were imprisoned. International aid to Cambodia accounted for over half of the countrys annual budget. But the peoples problems extended beyond harsh economic circumstances and into every facet of life. Malnutrition and medical neglect were rampant. In 1982 they formed a fragile coalition (under the nominal leadership of Sihanouk) with two noncommunist Khmer groups opposed to the Vietnamese-backed central government. Cohen Center, Keene, NH. Here's the impact it left on Sino-S'pore relations 40 years on", "How Red China Supported the Brutal Khmer Rouge", "Kenneth Quinn: From Cambodia's 'killing fields' to Iowa's Field of Dreams", "60h Anniversary of Diplomatic Relations between the United States and Cambodia", Architect of Genocide Was Unrepentant to the End, "UN genocide adviser welcomes historic conviction of former Khmer Rouge leaders", "Khmer Rouge's Slaughter in Cambodia Is Ruled a Genocide (Published 2018)", "Khmer Rouge's Slaughter in Cambodia Is Ruled a Genocide Photographs of victims of the Khmer Rouge at the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, on Thursday.
Yet Sihanouk hoped to protect Cambodians by endorsing strict neutrality. With this ruse, the perpetrators could maintain some illusion that their practice of mass executions was warranted. By 1979, when Vietnam invaded Cambodia, anywhere from a fifth to a third of the Cambodian population had been murdered by the Khmer Rouge, the vast majority of survivors of the genocide were traumatized and functionally illiterate, and the region was in shambles. However, that sentiment was soon tempered by the 1962 outbreak of the Vietnam War. With the country weakened and undeniably incapable of defending its own people, Cambodia descended into chaos. Under the Nixon Doctrine, the administration once again provided military and economic help to Cambodia, but notably still stopped short of sending additional American soldiers to fend off the communist Vietnamese. To trick counterfeiters, Benjamin Franklin deliberately misspelled Pennsylvania when printing official currency for the American colony. 17 February 2015. Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea, the movements chief diplomat and ideologue respectively, were convicted of crimes against humanity in 2014 and sentenced to life in prison. Lon Nol was eager to regain American support, but was successful only to an extent. Its capital city of Angkor boasted a population greater than one million residents, making it for hundreds of years the largest city in the world. He died in 1998 while under house arrest imposed by rivals within the Khmer Rouge, which largely disintegrated afterward. The Khmer Rouge also persecuted and killed minorities, particularly ethnic Chinese, in large numbers. Cambodias communist movement originated in the Khmer Peoples Revolutionary Party, which was formed in 1951 under the auspices of the Viet Minh of Vietnam. This page was last edited on 15 July 2022, at 02:14. By this time the Khmer Rouge were also receiving substantial aid from North Vietnam, which had withheld its support during the years of Sihanouks rule. Once in control, the Khmer Rouge evacuated the city of Phnom Penh, moving three million civilians to the nations rural fields. In fact, for a long time, visitors recorded being favorably impressed by the regions promise of an affluent lifestyle to its residents, known as the Khmer. This contribution has not yet been formally edited by Britannica. While the United States appreciated the regimes return to its sphere of influence, burgeoning anti-war protests increasingly limited Washingtons options. The regime made a point to elevate those from rural communities, or Old People, over the formerly city-dwelling New People, whom it deemed useless. Throughout the 1980s, the Khmer Rouge continued to dominate as much as half of Cambodia, and in 1993 they came terrifyingly close to gaining control of the entire country.The Paris Peace Accords of the early 1990s restored the Cambodian monarchy under Prince Sihanouk, but this conscious move towards normalcy could not mask the wounds of a nation that was still clearly in crisis. "But I had my mother's wisdom. Conversation between Chinese leader Mao Zedong and Cambodian Leader Pol Pot", "A Personal Reflection on Norodom Sihanouk and Zhou Enlai: An Extraordinary Friendship on the Fringes of the Cold War", "", "1978 ", "Deng Xiaoping visited S'pore in 1978. While every effort has been made to follow citation style rules, there may be some discrepancies. Our editors will review what youve submitted and determine whether to revise the article. These articles have not yet undergone the rigorous in-house editing or fact-checking and styling process to which most Britannica articles are customarily subjected. Especially after their history of foreign interference, Cambodians might be seen as justified for harboring such sentiments. I had hope and was lucky to have survived one of the twentieth century's worst nightmares. Get a Britannica Premium subscription and gain access to exclusive content. 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. Our editors will review what youve submitted and determine whether to revise the article. Four cases began against senior commanders, including the head of the S-21 Prison. Although many other children suffered and died at the hands of the Khmer Rouge, the Party line at least in principle taught that children were morally superior to most of their elders because of the latters past associations with corrupt capitalism and religion. Talks aimed at bringing the Khmer Rouges surviving leaders to trial began almost immediately after the movements demise. Only by embracing the simple life of the farmer, it was taught, could Cambodia reclaim its stolen grandeur. The Khmer Rouge government was overthrown in 1979 by invading Vietnamese troops, who installed a puppet government propped up by Vietnamese aid and expertise. ", -Sichan Siv, Cambodian Genocide Survivor | Former US Ambassador to the UN | Former THGAAC Commissioner, 2022 Texas Holocaust, Genocide, and Antisemitism Advisory Commission. "Communist Mass Killings: Cambodia (19751979)". As starvation and disease set in, these actions alone would have created a significant humanitarian disaster. In this respect, the Cambodian genocide operated as an orchestrated assault on a civilizations memory. Isolated in the remote western provinces of the country and increasingly dependent on gem smuggling for their funding, the Khmer Rouge suffered a series of military defeats and grew weaker from year to year. The closing statements for the final case lasted nine days in June 2017 and the final judgment is expected to be presented in 2018. Ieng Sary, who had also been indicted in 2007, died in detention in 2013 while being prosecuted for crimes against humanity. Site Policies, The Holocaust - Holocaust Remembrance Week, Online Digital Library for Educators (ODLE). While throwing traditions by the wayside, the Khmer Rouge still assumed something of a reactionary character, at least insofar as it privileged through propaganda the agrarian lifestyle that characterized the earlier Khmer Empire. Waller, James. By November 1978, when Vietnam invaded and put an end to the Khmer Rouges excesses, at least 1.25 million and as many as 3 million Cambodians had died as a result of Khmer Rouge action; Cambodias population had been 7.5 million. Angkor boasted a reputation for prosperity, but was finally sacked in the 15th century, an event that helped usher in generations of hardship. Foremost among them was a longstanding essential component of Cambodian culture, Buddhism. The first indictments were handed down in 2007, and the first trialagainst Kaing Guek Eav (better known as Duch), the former commander of a notorious Khmer Rouge prisongot under way in 2009. While every effort has been made to follow citation style rules, there may be some discrepancies. In 1975, the Khmer Rouge gained control of the Cambodian government with the intent to transform Cambodia into a communist state. However, the Khmer Rouge took that mood to a fanatical extreme. The Borgen Project is an incredible nonprofit organization that is addressing poverty and hunger and working towards ending them. Khmer Rouge, (French: Red Khmer) also called Khmers Rouges, radical communist movement that ruled Cambodia from 1975 to 1979 after winning power through a guerrilla war. 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.
While never genocidal, French encroachment was for the people of Cambodia but one more marker on their recent historical downslide. ", "June 21, 1975. The Khmer Rouge also targeted for murder potential political rivals, but did not stop there. Both were also found guilty in 2018 on charges of genocide in the tribunals final trial against Khmer Rouge leaders. Articles from Britannica Encyclopedias for elementary and high school students. In 2018 Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea, two high-ranking Khmer Rouge officials, were convicted of genocide. Updates? Determined to halt the spread of communism, the United States provided huge sums of economic aid to Cambodia and bombed communist bases at its eastern border. Keene State College. Cambodian history was not always so mired in atrocity. The Khmer Rouge retreated to remote areas and resumed guerrilla warfare, this time operating from bases near the border with Thailand and obtaining aid from China. By the 1800s, the region of Cambodia was locked in a power struggle between neighboring Siam and Vietnam. The perversion of familiar institutions helped support the regimes genocidal policies. Pursuit of His Circle", "Duch, Prison Chief Who Slaughtered for the Khmer Rouge, Dies at 77", "Ieng Sary, Khmer Rouge Leader Tied to Genocide, Dies at 87", "Khmer Rouge Trial, Perhaps the Last, Nears End in Cambodia", "Cambodia Moves To Outlaw Denial of Khmer Rouge Atrocities", "China Says It Won't Apologize For Supporting the Khmer Rouge", "China defends its Khmer Rouge ties as trial opens", "SLJ Speaks to National Book Award Finalists", "Telluride Film Review: 'First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers', "Year Zero: The Silent Death of Cambodia (1979)", "The Prevention and Intervention of Genocide During the Cold War Years", "Khmer Rouge trial ends with defendants denying charges", "Cambodia passes law making denial of Khmer Rouge genocide illegal", "Twentieth-Century Genocides Underlying Ideological Themes from Armenia to East Timor", "Cambodia and the International Community", "Cambodia sentence two top Khmer Rouge leaders to life in prison", International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Cambodian_genocide&oldid=1098274296, Short description is different from Wikidata, Articles with unsourced statements from August 2021, Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License 3.0, 17 April 1975 7 January 1979 (3 years, 8 months and 20 days). The Japanese invasion during the Second World War saw the weakening of French forces in Cambodia and the installation of Cambodias King Sihanouk, whose reign began in 1941. Omissions? Articles such as this one were acquired and published with the primary aim of expanding the information on Britannica.com with greater speed and efficiency than has traditionally been possible. The people were made to work long hours of backbreaking slave labor and received little, if anything, to eat. In the meantime, more information about the article and the author can be found by clicking on the authors name. Under Vietnamese auspices, Cambodia became the Peoples Republic of Kampuchea for a decade, until Vietnam withdrew in 1989. Questions or concerns? After years of wrangling and delay, the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (commonly called the Khmer Rouge Tribunal) was established in 2006 as a joint operation between the United Nations and the government of Cambodia. This film brought, The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, otherwise known as. The Khmer Rouge was the strongest partner in this coalition, which carried on guerrilla warfare until 1991. In 1995 many of their cadres accepted an offer of amnesty from the Cambodian government, and in 1996 one of their leading figures, Ieng Sary, defected along with several thousand guerrillas under his command and signed a peace agreement with the government. Pol Pot, former schoolteacher and dictator at the head of the newly renamed Democratic Kampuchea, put forth genocidal policies that relocated, enslaved, tortured, and murdered enormous numbers of Cambodians. That Cambodia no longer had a system of currency or a market for international trade further hindered its war-ravaged economy and added to a general tone of desperation. This turn of events helped elevate to prominence the Khmer Rouge, a radical communist group that found the reigning monarchy too moderate. The new regime started destroying evidence of Western influence, emptying cities and force-marching the urban population into the countryside to engage in hopelessly inadequate agricultural projects. And while ostensibly a communist state, new class distinctions emerged where even young children of Party leaders were placed in positions of authority. 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.