Genocide can be described as systematic and coordinated killing of all people from a national, ethnic, or religious group. The Cambodian genocide took place within a span of four years from 1975 through 1979, a period that came to be known as the Khmer Rogue rule period (Etcheson, 2005). During this period, an estimated two million people lost their lives. The period was characterized by political executions, people being starved to death, and forced labor. Cambodia is located in Southeast Asia, and borders Vietnam to the east and Thailand to the west. The genocide ended after the invasion of Cambodia by its neighbor, Vietnam, which led to the Cambodian-Vietnamese war and occupation of Cambodia for a decade (Etcheson, 2005).
The Cambodian genocide happened under the watchful instructions of the then leader Khieu Samphan in 1975. Khieu was born in the year 1931; he studied economics in France and became drawn into Marxism (Shaw, 2003). This became a core theory for his communist ideals. After his return to Cambodia, he sought an elective post in the national assembly and was elected twice, and was later appointed as a cabinet minister by Prince Norodom Sihanouk. He was coined as ‘Mr. Clean’ due to his clean reputation, which however was tainted by his leftist views. The genocide happened with the combined efforts of the Khmer Rogue Communist Party who were led by several key figures including, Pol Pot, Nuon Chea, Leng Sary, and Khieu Samphan. Pol Pot was a very significant figure in the role of the genocide; he was part the secretary general of the Communist party of Kampuchea (CPK) (Etcheson, 2005). His allies also occupied most of the significant seats in the CPK. In the highlight of this period, there were executions of colossal masses of people and members of the Communist Party of Kampuchea. The communists went ahead, abolished the Royal Government of National Union of Kampuchea, and then proclaimed a new Constitution of the Democratic Republic of Kampuchea. They however retained Prince Norodom Sihanouk as the head of the country. He was forcefully resigned and placed under house arrest in the city of Phnom Penh. His resignation paved way for Khieu Samphan to take over; he became the lone individual to serve as President during Khmer Rogue period (Midlarsky, 2005). The government then abolished the laws and paved way for laws that would undermine the dignity of the people that stated that all workers oversaw operations of their factories and fields. This allowed the government to use people for labor without pay. The representatives in the legislative arm of the government, Kampuchean People’s Representatives Assembly, were the only people allowed to vote in the executive. In addition, new entrants were not allowed to run for any elective post.
Khieu Samphan and his associates tried to create a communist country in one single step. They gave powers to committees enabling them to control families whereby families were put to hard labor and children were separated from their parents. The old provinces were abolished, and new zones were created. They consisted of seven zones: Northern zone, northeastern, northwestern, central zone, eastern zone, western zone, and southwestern zone, which were allocated numbers for better management by the Khmer Rogue (Shaw, 2003). The country’s offices were plagued with nepotism to enable them conduct their businesses in utter secrecy and misuse the resources available to them. The communism plans were inspired by China, whereby people were hurdled into groups to do community work. In addition, there was also abolition of currency to allow barter trade to take place, such that rice became the main good used for trade. After the fall of the Phnom Penh, thousands of teachers were executed due to the hostile view of western education. The escalation of the atrocities began with the deportation of non-citizens. The people in the cities were forced back into the villages. The main reason behind the evacuations was that Pol pot wanted to remove the deeply rooted corruption, and parasitism found in cities and disables the spy agencies that were the country’s cities, thus the hate for the cities (Etcheson, 2005).
The country’s main security organ, Santebal was dismantled and placed under the rule of associates of Khieu Samphan. Its headquarters were moved to the empty Phnom Penh city for direct control by the rebellion. It is in the city where the main atrocities were committed; people were tortured especially if they had any connections with the former government. Learned and social elites were neither spared due to the suspicions that they were spies. Ethnic Vietnamese, Chinese, ethnic Thai, Muslims and Buddhist monks, were tortured to death. Former urban dwellers were regarded as economic saboteurs due to their lack of farming skills (Shaw, 2003).
Relations between Vietnam and Cambodia soured after Cambodia invaded islands that were Vietnamese territory; this prompted the Vietnamese to seize Puolo woi, a Canadian island. The Khmer rogue leaders were forced to go to Hanoi, Vietnam to sign a peace deal, an idea that was received warmly by the Vietnamese government in the year 1976 (Midlarsky, 2005). However, the Khmer rogue did not relent in their activities and these atrocities along the borders increased, and raids on Thailand and Vietnamese villages fully exposed the activities of the rebel outfit. Khmer Rogue was obsessed with getting more power. Vietnam later formed a rebellion to help fight the Khmer rogue from within its territories, thus the Kampuchean national United Front for National Salvation was formed with full Vietnamese assistance and backing. In 1979, the Vietnamese military was forced to intervene in order to liberate Cambodia after the united front failed to make headway. The Khmer rogue was successfully toppled in the same year of invasion; however, there were still remnant elements of Khmer Rogue that persisted into the early 1980’s but fizzled out as Cambodian government backed by the Vietnamese leadership maintained control of the Republic of Kampuchea (Shaw, 2003).
Etcheson, C. (2005). After the killing fields: Lessons from the Cambodian genocide. Westport, Connecticut: Praeger Publishers.
Midlarsky, M. I. (2005). The killing trap: Genocide in the twentieth century. Cambridge, U.K.: CambridgeUniversity Press.
Shaw, M. (2003). War and genocide: Organized killing in modern society. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press and Blackwell.
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