Category Archives: Khmer Rouge

The Killing Fields


“The Killing Fields are a number of sites in Cambodia where large numbers of people were killed and buried by the Khmer Rouge regime, during its rule of the country from 1975 to 1979, immediately after the end of the Cambodian Civil War (1970-1975).

Analysis of 20,000 mass grave sites by the DC-Cam Mapping Program and Yale University indicate at least 1,386,734 victims. Estimates of the total number of deaths resulting from Khmer Rouge policies, including disease and starvation, range from 1.7 to 2.5 million out of a population of around 8 million. In 1979, communist Vietnam invaded Democratic Kampuchea and toppled the Khmer Rouge regime.

Cambodian journalist Dith Pran coined the term ‘killing fields’ during his escape from the regime. A 1984 film, The Killing Fields, tells the story of Dith Pran, played by another Cambodian survivor Haing S. Ngor, and his journey to escape the death camps.

The best known monument of the Killing Fields is Choeung Ek. Today, it is the site of a Buddhist memorial to the terror, and Tuol Sleng has a museum commemorating the genocide. The memorial park has been constructed around the mass graves of many thousands of victims in Choeung Ek. The utmost respect is given to the victims of the massacres through signs and tribute sections throughout the park. Many dozens of mass graves are visible above ground, several which have not been excavated as of yet. Commonly, bones and clothing surface after heavy rainfalls due to the extremely large number of bodies still buried in the area.” (From Wikipedia)

Khmer Rouge list of enemies:

“Former soldiers, the police, the CIA, and the KGB. Their crimes was fighting in the civil war. The merchants, the capitalists, and the business men. Their crime was exploiting the poor. The rich farmers and the landlords. Their crimes was exploiting the peasants. The intellectuals, the doctors, the lawyers, the monks, the teachers, and the civil servants. These people thought, and their memories were tainted by evil Westerners. Students were getting an education to exploit the poor. Former celebrities, the poets. These people carried bad memories of the old corrupted Cambodia… The list goes on and on. The rebellious… the individualists, the people who wore glasses, the literate,… those with soft hards. These people were corrupted and lived off the blood and sweat of the farmers. very few of us escaped these categories…”

Phnom Penh

Phnom Penh

The Killing Fields

Phnom Penh

Phnom Penh

The Killing Fields

Before the City Was Emptied

This is what was happening in the rest of the country. A common argument is that the United States bombing inspired many to join the revolution, making the country complicit in the formation of the Khmer Rouge regime.

Operation Breakfast, 1969: In an effort to destroy Communist supply routes and base camps in Cambodia, President Nixon gives the go-ahead to “Operation Breakfast.” The covert bombing of Cambodia, conducted without the knowledge of Congress or the American public, will continue for fourteen months.

A bombardment in which American B52s and other aircraft dropped more bombs than fell on all of Europe during World War II. Up to 30% of those bombs failed to detonate.

These are photos by Cambodian-American photographer Khiang Hei:

“Although officially it never took place, between 1964 and 1973, the United States carried out some of the heaviest aerial bombardment of the war along the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos and Cambodia trying to stop North Vietnamese Army from using the trail to attack American and South Vietnamese Forces in South Vietnam. It is estimated that over two million tons of bombs were dropped- exceeding the entire tonnage of bombs dropped during all of World War II and the equivalent of one planeload of bombs every hour for ten years. Estimates of the failure rate bombs dropped in the region- that is, bombs that have remained unexploded- are as high 30 percent. To this day, bombshells are still scattered everywhere, and have become part of the present day jungle landscape. Unexploded bombs, ammunition, and mines continue to maim and kill people, especially those who collect the scrap metal to sell to Vietnam and Japan.”

Or those who built houses, click image to go to the original image:

The Khmer Rouge Tribunal Begins

Khmer Rouge Tribunal Website (officially the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia):

From The Cambodia Daily a paper which publishes very limited content online.  (I can only imagine the daily efforts and mission of printing free press are work enough). Therefore an excerpt, because this isn’t going to make it to the Stateside otherwise.

On the First Day of Trial, KR Atrocities Recounted

By Julia Wallace and Kuch Naren

As the Khmer Rouge tribunal began substantive hearings yesterday in its case agains three senior Pol Pot regime leaders, prosecutors told the court that the accused had turned their nation into “an ocean of blood.”

In an opening statement that lasted nearly the entire day, Cambodian Co-Prosecutor Chea Leange described the sheer horror of life under the Khmer Rouge regime – which she called “a system of brutality that defies belief” – in vivid and occasionally stomach-turning detail.

As she reeled off a litany of atrocities, co-accused Brother Number Two Nuon Chea, Foreign Minister Ieng Sary and head of state Khieum Samphan lilstened impassively. Many victims sitting in the court’s gallery public gallery openly wept.

One of them, 55-year old Var Liman, ran out of the room in tears as Ms Leang began to describe the forced evacuation of Phnom Penh in April 1975. “I couldn’t stop my tears, and I felt as if I was seeing the image of my brothers, my two brothers, who were tied with roped and carried to be executed separately in the forest,” she said afterwards sobbing in the court’s bathroom.

Ms Leang described countless scenes of cannibalism, disembowelment, bloody beatings and torture. At the Sre Ambel salt fields, laborers were forced to work until their legs were eaten away by salt water. At the Trapeang Thmar dam, menstruating women could not wash the blood off their bodies are were trailed by thick clouds of flies. Those we fell ill were fed rabbit pellets or injected with coconut juice.

As one security center, guards used pincers to pull of prisoners’ noses and earlobes, then poured acid on their victims, dragged them outside naked, and cut out their livers to fry and eat. At another, prisoners were forced to defecate into helmets that doubled as their food bowls. Two small girls aged 2 and 3 had their brains bashed out against a tamarind tree by guards after their parents died.

During a discussion of genocide against Cham Muslims, prosecutors play a video clip of a Cham woman describing her suffering. She said all her sons had been killed by the Khmer Rouge. “They boiled human excrement to make fertilizer, and they forced me to tast it, asking was it salty or not,” she asked. “When I speak about it, it makes me feel better, because if I keep it inside myself, I only suffer more.

Under the regime, the Khmer people were stripped not only of their belongings but also what Khieu Samphan had dubbed their “spiritual private property,” which the former head of state once said was more insidious than material wealth. “It comprises everthing that you think is yours, everything that you think in relation to yourself, your parents, your family and your wife,” Ms Leang explained quoting words Khieu Samphan once told an interviewer.

This lead to policies such as forced marriage and the systematic suppression of Buddhism. Monks were referred to as “disease carriers that sucks people’s blood.” Women were forced to have sex with new husbands they may have met that very afternoon, while couples who fell in love without authorization could be killed.

“They took from the people everything makes life worth livig: family, faith, education, a place to rear one’s children, a place to rest one’s head” said Co-Prosecutor Andrew Cayley. Chhim Phan, a former Khmer Rouge deputy commune chief attending yesterday’s hearings said that the prosecutors’ presentation was difficult to listen to. He once ordered his cadres to publicly execute a man and a woman who had fallen in love illicitly. Now, he is plagued by guilt.

“That couple was brought to smash in front of a crowd of men’s mobile unit and women’s mobile unit in order to warn others not to make love,” he recalled. “they were beaten to death with hoes and wooded sticks. I admit I killed that couple, but I was ordered to do so.”

Ms Leang and Mr Cayley said there was no doubt that the three accused were directly responsible for coordinating the policies that led to these atrocities. Each of three is charged with genocide against Cham Muslims and  ethnic Vietnamese; crimes against humanity including murder, extermination, enslavement and torture; and war crimes, including torture, unlawful deportation, willful killing and willfully causing great suffering.

But due to the case’s complexity, judges have spit it into several smaller “mini-trials,” and only forced evacuations and related crimes against humanity will be deal with when witness testimony begins in December. Khmer Rouge victims and their tormentors attended yesterday’s hearing side by side. Civil party Khoem Rin, 63 was evacuated from her Phnom Penh home to Kompong Speu in 1975. Her brother was executed in the jungle, and Khmer Rouge soliders friend and ate his liver, lungs and viscera.

“When I first saw those top three Khmer Rouge leaders, I wanted to him them with my shoes, because even Hitler the former German leader never killed his own people. In contrast these former Khmer Rouge stupid leaders smashed their nation,” she said.  But Ieng Sary’s former messenger, 64-year-old Phy Phuon, who had traveled from Banteay  Meanchey province’s Malai district to watch his boss go on trial, said he was disappointed with the court for trying to find justice when “there is no justice in this world.”

“It’s not true that he killed many people, he said of Ieng Sary. “No, it isn’t true. I never saw the killing. His natural character is gentle. Other leaders’ attitudes wer also gentle, not violent and cruel… I never saw the corpses. I went to all the provinces around the country, and I never saw the killings and the bodies. I only saw the difficulties in building dams.”

International observers were also paying attention. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay applauded the trial’s opening statement from Geneva, although she cautioned that political interference must not be allowed to damage the credibility of the court.

Chhang Song, a former minister of information under the Lon Nol regime who fled the country in 1975, said he is avidly following the trial from his home in California. “It’s now the big time for the great show for those senior Khmer Rouge to come forward and answer for the huge crimes they have committed against the people in Cambodia,” he said.

“For me, looking from afar, it means a great and decisive step in the biggest trial in the history of Cambodia, and one of the biggest trials in the history of the world.”

A War Waged Against the City: Brother Number One

Source: David Chandler, Brother Number One A Political Biography of Pol Pot

“On April 17, Cambodian Communist troops, heavily armed, silent and many of them alarmingly young – appeared on the boulevards of Phnom Penh and converged on the center of the city…. Within twenty-four hours the young combatants ordered everyone in Phnom Penh to evacuate the city… the forced evacuation of the cities was the most far-reaching decision any modern Cambodian government ever took. To the leaders of the Red Khmer, it was not such much a cruel and thoughtless tactic as a demonstration of an extension of their victorious campaign. From that moment on, no foreign aid to feed the people would be allowed into the country. Those who suffered had refused to be on the winning side. A new Cambodia therefore would start from zero in an empty city.”

“Saloth Sar reached Phnom Penh in secrecy on April 23. For the past twelve years he had waged war against the city and all it stood for. The victory of what the Communists came to call the “glorious 17th of April: had obliterated the authority of Phnom Penh. As we was driven around the capital, with it smoldering garbage, burnt out cars, abandoned shops, deserted houses and empty streets, Sar’s excitement must have been difficult to restrain. He had stopped imperialism in its tracks.”

Source: The City He Built, New York Times

It is hard to imagine a crueler fate for an urban planner than seeing his country taken over by a regime with a murderous hatred of cities. As Cambodia’s pre-eminent architect and chief urban planner during the 1960’s, Vann Molyvann laid out significant portions of Phnom Penh and designed dozens of landmark structures fusing High Modernist design with classical Khmer elements, including the Corbusier-influenced Independence Monument, the stacked-block minimalist Front du Bassac housing development and the National Sports Complex. Then, in 1975, the Khmer Rouge marched into the capital and evacuated its entire population. They used the stadium for political meetings and mass rallies. In the southern port of Sihanoukville, they tried to blow up Vann’s National Bank of Cambodia building (having abolished money) but gave up when the vaults proved too strong.

”They took Cambodia from a country in the process of development to a communal society without the slightest vestige of the modern or the urban,” says Vann”

Source: Brother Number One Film

NPR – Khmer Rouge Trials


In Cambodia, Aging Khmer Rouge Leaders Go On Trial

A Cambodian woman looks at portraits of Khmer Rouge victims at the Tuol Sleng genocide museum in the capital Phnom Penh on Nov. 17. Three senior Khmer Rouge leaders are on trial in what may be the last major legal case against the group's leaders.

EnlargeTang Chhin Sothy/AFP/Getty ImagesA Cambodian woman looks at portraits of Khmer Rouge victims at the Tuol Sleng genocide museum in the capital Phnom Penh on Nov. 17. Three senior Khmer Rouge leaders are on trial in what may be the last major legal case against the group’s leaders.

November 22, 2011

In Cambodia this week, three elderly men are sitting in a courtroom, accused of atrocities that took place in the 1970s.

The three former leaders of the radical Khmer Rouge are on trial for their role in a regime that exterminated more than 2 million people — or roughly a quarter of the country’s population.

The Khmer Rouge was forced from power more than three decades ago, its former leaders are growing old, and this may be the final trial held by the U.N.-backed tribunal.

Dressed in a black barrister’s gown and speaking through a translator, co-prosecutor Chea Leng summed up the case to the tribunal’s five foreign and Cambodian judges.

The three former Khmer Rouge leaders who went on trial Monday in the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh, from left to right: Nuon Chea, the Khmer Rouge's former chief ideologist, Ieng Sary, former foreign minister, and Khieu Samphan, former head of state.

Mark Peters/APThe three former Khmer Rouge leaders who went on trial Monday in the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh, from left to right: Nuon Chea, the Khmer Rouge’s former chief ideologist, Ieng Sary, former foreign minister, and Khieu Samphan, former head of state.

“The evidence we will put before you will show that the Communist Party of Kampuchea turned Cambodia into a massive slave camp, reducing an entire nation to prisoners living under a system of brutality that defies belief,” she said.

The regime’s chief ideologue, Nuon Chea, the head of state, Khieu Samphan, and its foreign minister, Ieng Sary, listened mutely to the proceedings. Their trials have been divided into segments in hopes of reaching some verdict before they die off.

The three, all in their 80s, have maintained their innocence.

Accounts Of Mass Killings

But Chea Leng linked the trio to policies that resulted in the deaths of up to 2.2 million people. She cited a witness account of when the Khmer Rouge forced the evacuation of the capital Phnom Penh in April 1975.

“Along the road, I saw the bodies of people who had died. They were already shriveled up, and people had walked on top of them. Some of them had been eaten by dogs. Death was everywhere,” Chea Leng quoted the witness as saying.

Several thousand victims of the Khmer Rouge are preparing to file civil suits against their former oppressors and will seek symbolic reparations. They come from around the country and around the world.

Among them is former schoolteacher Sophany Bay, who now lives in San Jose, Calif. She says her three children were starved and beaten to death by the Khmer Rouge.

“I want to hear from the three top leaders, because they denied [their role]; they never apologized to the people,” she said. “I want to know who was involved in these crimes.”

I want to hear from the three top leaders, because they denied [their role]; they never apologized to the people. I want to know who was involved in these crimes- Sophany Bay, Cambodian-American woman who lost her three children to the Khmer Rouge

Despite the millions of Cambodians who suffered under Khmer Rouge rule, surprisingly few are participating in the tribunal. Some claim they’re being unfairly excluded from the proceedings.

But it’s not just the victims who complain of injustice.

Nuon Chea’s Dutch lawyer, Michiel Pestman, has filed a criminal complaint, accusing Prime Minister Hun Sen and other officials of interfering in the tribunal’s proceedings.

“This government has prevented important witnesses from testifying in my case,” Pestman said. “I think that is a crime, and something should be done about that. But my client knows he’s going to be convicted and sentenced, whatever the evidence there is against him.”

Some victims say the ideal reparations for them would be some kind of memorial, or something to help people remember this horrific chapter, even as they seek to put it behind them.

The Venerable Khy Sovanratana, abbot of Phnom Penh’s Mongkulvan Buddhist temple, says he helps many Cambodians to face their traumatic memories in order to overcome them.

“We try to console them that this kind of thing can happen in our life, or in previous life,” he said. “We should try to get rid of those suffering, those obsessions, then try to move on.”

He is confident there will be justice for Cambodia — if not criminal justice, then at least karmic justice.

Land Ownership after the Khmer Rouge

Siem Reap

Source: Molyvann, Vann. Modern Khmer Cities. Phnom Penh, Cambodia : Reyum ; [Chicago, IL?] : Sales and distribution, USA, Art Media Resources, c2003.


Decree of April 22, 1989

Article One of this Decree declared that all goods, whether moveable or immovable, located within the territory of Cambodia were the collective property of the Cambodian people and no property rights prior to 1979 would be recognized.

Article Two of this Decree gave the rights of property to the actual inhabitants of the property and authorized them to transfer those rights by inheritance or sale, provided that foreigners did not benefit from such a transfer.

Article Three of this Decree established the principal of land taxation.

Article Four of this Decree instituted a procedure ro officially establishing land claims through the deposit of a request and the obtaining of a previsionary certificate of occupation.

The Constitution of April 30, 1989

Article 14 of the new constitution defined the public domain of the State. Article 15 of the new Constitution recognized the rights of possession and use of land by Cambodia citizens living on it. Article 18 categorically prohibited all forced confiscations of the property of citizens. Article 18 also, however, authorized expropriation of certain property if and only if it was necessary for the public good, and if and only if proper indemnity was offered for seized property.

The Instruction of June 3, 1989

The instruction related that no pre-1979 land claims were to be honored, and that the State could not undo the redistribution of land which had taken place after January 7, 1989. The instruction also clarified and detailed the procedure for officially procuring ownership rights. In order to make a land claim, the head of a family had to request authorization for occupancy from the People’s committee of the district, commune, and village according to models provided by the Agricultural Service. Applications for land occupancy documents should be submitted from the day of instruction. After December 31, 1989 the State would consider all land with no claims laid on it as free and unappropriated.

The Land Law of August 11, 1992

The law reintroduced the right of individuals to own property. The first section of the law defined the notion of property and enumerated different types of ownership (propriety, temporary possession, authorization to cultivate, concession, ownership for a life time, right to use etc.) The second section of the law regulated the acquisition of property and affirmed the inalienable rights of both the public and private domains. Article 74 states that the peaceful, continuous, well-intentioned inhabitation of a property for more than five years – provided that this habitation was publicly acknowledged without ambiguity – would henceforth transform into legal possession of the property, provided that there were no contestations and that the property had been properly registered. A property which had ben unoccupied for three consecutive years automatically became State property.

The Law of Assignment of Properties of January 29, 1993

This short six article law regulates the division of properties between the State and the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP). After January 29, 1993, any building occupied by either the State of the CPP was declared as their respective property. The CPP seemingly benefited from this law since any law since any building it occupied immediately became its property without the intermediate step of possession, taxation and use for a period of five years required for all ordinary Cambodian citizens under the Land Law. Although this law was modified in 1993 following legislative elections sponsored by the United Nations, the legacy of victory property still lingers today.

The Constitution of September 21, 1993

Article 44 of the new constitution reaffirmed the right to own private property but stipulated that only Cambodia citizens could own property in Cambodia. The Constitution also reiterated that the expropriation of property could only take place if the property was needed for the public good.

Tuol Sleng / S-21


Tuol Sleng or S-21 operated as an extermination center for those deemed to be enemies of the Khmer Rouge state. In the four years it operated an estimated 20,000 people were tortured and then executed. There are 12 known survivors.  As Milton Osborne observes in his book Phnom Penh: A Cultural History: “If ever Hannah Arendt’s “banality of evil” seemed justified, it is surely in relation to these outwardly unimpressive set of buildings.”

Originally, the buildings housed the Tuol Svay Prey high school – the school’s original name meant “Hillock of the Wild Mango”; its later designation means “Hillock of the Sleng Tree.” The conditions of S-21 were horrendous, a fact that remains vividly apparent to visitors today. In converting an anonymous set of four school buildings into a torture prison the regime installed a range of restraints, chains, shackles and bars, with bare iron bedsteads used to hold down prisoners while they were tortured.

The Khmer Rouge constructed few (possibly none?) formal building projects to mark their presence on the city. Rather they relied heavily upon the reuse of buildings designed for another purpose for their short tenure. In this sense the museum at Tuol Sleng is one of the few buildings which serves as a monument to their reign.

Skull Map

Water Torture



As It Was Left


Three Years, Eight Months and Twenty Days

Widener Cambodia

Three years, eight months and twenty days or the length of time that the Khmer Rouge occupied Phnom Penh.

This week I began combing the Harvard Library system for all the research I can find on Phnom Penh before I no longer have access. There is surprisingly little given the size of Harvard’s collection. The majority of books in Widener are on the horrors of the Khmer Rouge. The titles are striking, among them: First They Killed My Father, The Killing Fields, and Pol Pot The History of a Nightmare. There is no doubt that the years between 1975 and 1979 were the defining moments of contemporary Cambodian history – however, this time period also comprises the majority of writing available on Phnom Penh – which is treated as little more than a drop back for the devastation of Pol Pot and his revolutionaries.

The exodus began on April 18, 1975 – in three days an estimated 2 million people were marched out of the capital. Their slogan: “Let us transform the countryside so that it becomes the city.” Central to the revolutionary doctrine was the concept of transforming urban dwellers into tightly controlled agricultural laborers by “extricating them from the filth of imperialists and colonialist culture (in this case the French).”

From David Chandler’s Voices from S-21:

 After the Khmer Rouge had emptied the city in 1975, Phnom Penh had remained the country’s capital, but it never regained its status as an urban center. The bureaucrats, soldiers, and factory workers quartered there probably never numbered more than fifty thousand. During the DK era, the country had no stores, markets, schools, temples, or public facilities, except for a warehouse in the capital serving the diplomatic community. In Phnom Penh, barbed-wire fences enclosed factories, workshops, barracks, and government offices. Street signs were painted over, and barbed-wire entanglements blocked many streets to traffic. Banana trees were planted in vacant lots. Automobiles abandoned in 1975 were rusted in piles along with refrigerators, washing machines, television sets, and typewriters. Scraps of paper in the gutters included prerevolutionary currency, worthless under the Khmer Rouge. On 7 January 1979, no people or animals could be seen. As in 1975, the central government, such as it was, had disappeared. Once again, Cambodians were being made to start at zero.

Despite this codified hatred of the city, few landmarks or buildings were destroyed in totality. Most notably, the Catholic cathedral and the National Bank. Other symbols of urban modernity were destroyed:  car, shops, medical and university buildings. The roads from the airport were maintained and facades of the empty buildings painted  to give the few chaperoned visitors a sense that the city was still in working shape.

”They took Cambodia from a country in the process of development to a communal society without the slightest vestige of the modern or the urban,” Van Molyvann, Cambodia Architect.

On January 7, 1979 the Vietnamese liberated the city from the Khmer Rouge and began their occupation of Cambodia and its capital.

Widener Cambodia

Widener Cambodia