Cambodian Genocide (1975-1979). List of Genocides of the 20th Century


Pre Genocide Period: Newly Sovereign Cambodia

In 1953,Cambodia, a relatively small country in Southeast Asia, gained it’s independence from French colonial rule. Its new ruler was Prince Sihanouk, the monarch of the Cambodian royal family who were suppressed during Cambodia’s French rule.Cambodiahad become a peaceful, Buddhist majority country of over 7 million and under Sihanouk’s rule, there were major plans to boost the economy and modernise the country.

To develop the country, Sihanouk depended on foreign aid from western countries including the US,Franceand other western countries.

Ho Chi Minh Routes
Ho Chi Minh Routes | Source

Pre Genocide: Trouble in Vietnam

Trouble had been brewing in Cambodia’s neighbours,Vietnam, where French colonial rule was being overthrown by the Vietnamese. The Vietnamese gained control over their country but their government was shattered. The pro communist north began to invade the southern democratic south which the anti communist western countries didn’t approve of.

The US then stepped in were they were supporting the anti communist south Vietnam. Ho Chi Minh, the leader of communist North Vietnam had support from the communist Soviet Union and China. All this trouble led to the Vietnam War.

With all this trouble brewing how would Neutral Cambodia andLaosin the North stay out of trouble and survive.

Prince Sihanouk tried his best to retain Cambodia’s neutrality by not taking any sides in the war and by strengthening friendships with the US,China, the Soviet Union and Vietnam.

Things took a change for the worst when the US went against their South Vietnamese anti communist allies and organised an overthrow of the government. Prince Sihanouk was disgusted at this show of betrayal and cut off all ties with theUSwho were playing a big part in retaining Cambodia’s neutrality.

The communist Vietnamese were now Cambodia’s biggest threat, with their lust for power and expansion and even China was unsettled by the Vietnamese due to the possibility of them taking over the indo China area south of China.

Eventually Cambodia was dragged into the war due to the troubles on it Vietnamese borders, due to the Vietnamese hiding in Cambodian territory at the borders and also due to the supplies and personnel reaching southern Vietnam from northern Vietnam, via routes in Cambodia nicknamed the “ Ho Chi Minh Trails”. Sihanouk had ironically allowed this to carry on as he made a deal with the northern communist Vietnamese that they would respect Cambodia’s borders post war. Sihanouk then travelled abroad for talks with his allies.

Pre Genocide: Beginning of New Government

With Sihanouk away, the Cambodians drew to the streets in large violent protests demanding that the Vietnamese communists remove their presence from Cambodia. This was against Prince Sihanouk’s wishes and could spell disaster for Cambodia.

The people turned against Sihanouk, he was eventually convicted of treason and ordered to death. He could not return to Cambodia at this point.

On the 18th of March 1970, Sihanouk’s power was overthrown and Lon Nol, leader of the recently appointed Right wing government of Cambodia, became head of state.

The Cambodian’s demand that the Viet Cong leave Cambodia swelled into a mass hatred of Vietnamese in general and the victims of this hatred turned out to be innocent Vietnamese civilians who had taken refuge in Cambodia, some for generations.

Lon Nol then ordered all communists and Viet Cong to leave Cambodia which was an impossible demand due to the minuscule size of the Cambodian army.Cambodia had now become part of the war.

Cambodian forces were no match for the Vietnamese and all provinces, to which the Vietnamese Ho Chi Minh routes passed, were taken over by the Vietnamese.

Cambodia became more of a battlefield because of this and US forces continuously bombed the Vietnamese routes with napalm and cluster bombs and eventually killed up to 750 000 Cambodians in this effort.

Khmer Rouge Recruits
Khmer Rouge Recruits | Source

Genocidal Begins: Beginning of Communist Government Khmer Rouge

This US death toll on the Cambodian people as well as Cambodia’s leader Lon Nol backing the US drove the Cambodian people to support the guerrilla movement known as The Khmer Rouge, led by leader Pol Pot.

The Khmer Rouge party was ironically communist but gained massive support and in 1975 the force had grown to over 700 000 men.

Lon Nol was defeated this year by the Khmer Rouge. In the same yearNorth Vietnamhad taken over South Vietnam’s capital Saigon.

Having taken power of the country, the Khmer Rouge now set on a repressive mission to redevelop Cambodia under their communist ideals.

They wanted to force the population into the countryside and onto huge collective farms. Anyone who they considered threat were killed, this included educated people especially in urban areas and anyone who opposed the new communist way of life.

Due to the death threats, people of the urban areas were forced to leave their homes and possessions and make their way to the countryside.

The society was destroyed, all educated professionals were killed and schools were shut down. People were also denied access to medicine and medical assistance, religion was illegal, and all types of entertainment were banned. Whole families were split up and children were separated from their parents.

The people who were spared were forced into unpaid labour on the collective farms where they had no access to proper housing, no medical care, worked abnormally long hours and were starved due to the minuscule rations. People generally became sick and died on these farms.

Other people exterminated by the ruthless Khmer Rouge were any minorities inCambodiafrom the surrounding countries of China,Thailand and Vietnam and even Cambodians with ancestry from any of those countries.

The people were bombarded with death threats if they even muttered about a revolt or a disliking of the government, this way they were kept low spirited and controlled.

Cambodian Death Toll

The mass executions, starvation, death from exhaustion and rampant spread of disease resulted in the death of over 20% of Cambodia’s population, over 2 million people.


Post Genocide Period

The period that followed was one of misery, poverty, no education, invasion by China followed by occupancy by Vietnam. The country was in tatters and it wasn’t until a new government was formed, led by re elected prince Sihanouk and peace treaties signed between the indo Chinese countries and China that the country was on a path to recovery.

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