Sitemap

Select language:

In English

Home > Database > Cambodia > Historical Introduction

Get Informed

Print this article

Historical Introduction

Skulls of the victims of the Khmer Rouge are on display at the memorial stupa at Choeung Ek, a "killing fields" site, located on the outskirts of Phnom Penh on June 3, 2007. REUTERS

Since the Angkor Empire and Khmer monarchy that ruled Mekong's delta during 9th-13th centuries, Cambodia has been plagued by foreign invasions and conflicts. Five centuries of civil conflict and foreign interference did not only inflict serious losses on Cambodia, but prepared the isolated country for one of the most horrendous genocides of the 20th century. After proclaiming independence in 1953 and fighting the Second Indochina War and a civil war in late 1960s, Cambodia was in April 1975 taken over by a Khmer Rouge regime that lasted for three years and eight months. This extreme Communist regime, whose leaders were educated in France and inspired by Chinese Maoism, launched diabolical repressions in the country weakened by racism, ethnic hostilities and xenophobia. The new leaders attempted to create a de-urbanized agrarian utopia and achieve a single-step transition to Communism by transferring hundreds of thousands of city-dwellers to rural areas and collectivizing the country's agriculture. The ensuing totalitarian terror developed into genocide against ethnic minorities, intellectuals, religious believers and all other groups appearing suspicious to history's most radical Communist revolution. The purported motive of this common criminal plan was to effect a radical change of Cambodian society along ideological lines. During 1975-1979, about 1,7 million and possibly more than 2 million - that is 1/5-¼ of the country's estimated population of 8 million - died of starvation and repressions. In December 1978, the regime was toppled by Vietnamese forces and the Khmer Rouge retreated into rural areas where they carried on terrorist guerrilla warfare until the 1990s when a political solution was achieved. After long preparations, controversy and debate, the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia for the Prosecution of Crimes Committed During the Period of Khmer Rouge were created in 2006 to bring the surviving Khmer Rouge to trial for crimes against humanity.