Cambodian Genocide

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From 1975 to 1979, the Cambodian Genocide occurred in the Southeast Asian nation of Cambodia (McLellan 484). The genocide was a horrific slaughter that killed about 20% of Cambodia's population, or 1.5 to 1.7 million people (Williams 447). The Cambodian mass murders were an act of persecution by the Khmer Rouge regime led by Pol Pot. There was a socialist government that was determined to eliminate its political rivals. Pol Pot, the Khmer Rouge's general, had little regard for human life and watched over the mass genocide of millions of Cambodians. The terrible events traumatized countless people besides leaving permanent emotional scars.

Multiple Factors Underlying the Ethnic Conflict

The United States used Cambodia as a battle ground during the Vietnam War, leading up to the conflicts that would contribute to the genocide. In the 1970’s the Khmer Rouge guerilla movement was formed (Williams 448). The leader of the Khmer Rouge, Pol Pot was educated in France and believed in Maoist Communism. These communist ideas would become important foundations for the ideas of the genocide, and which groups would be persecuted. The genocide itself was based on the ideas of Pol Pot to bring back Cambodia to an agrarian society. His primary objective was to attain this, romanticized ideology of the old Cambodia, based on the ancient ruins, with all citizens having agrarian farming lives, and being equal to each other. Due to him wanting society to be equal, and agrarian based, the victims would be those that were educated, intellectuals, professionals, and minority ethnic (Williams 449).

It is during the forty-five months of communist rule that about 2 million, or twenty percent of the population had been killed. The secret police of Pol Pot had converted the once bustling high school of Tuol Sleng into a death camp, where prisoners were tortured using brutal methods into confessing to crimes they never committed, then killed for their supposed crimes (Williams 456). Often, the entire villages of accused supporters were routed outside their homes and into the fields, where they were shot down, then buried in mass graves (Un 137).

Ethnic Conflict and Power

There had been several years of bloody civil war in Cambodia, before the Khmer Rouge took over the government (Un 135). However, the worst killings were yet to come. The U.S. had supported the president Lon Nol when the communist forces, supported by other communist regimes such as Vietnam and China, took over the capitol. As with nearly every ruthless dictator, Pol Pot had his own secret police which he used to a brutal extent. Ironically, the Khmer Rouge regime was ended when its previous supporter, communist Vietnam, invaded Cambodia and imposed a new government, due to Cambodian aggressions against it. The Vietnamese were shocked to find mass graves, killing fields, and torture chambers dotting the countryside and capital.

How Ethnicity and the Conflict Interrelate

Ethnicity refers to the state or fact of belonging to a common cultural background. Despite having one dominant ethnic group, the Khmer, the Cambodian genocide was marred with ethnicity. According to Williams (2005), several ethnic minorities, in specific the Chinese, Thai, Cham, and the Vietnamese were targeted for forced assimilation and elimination (450). Khmer Rouge forcibly relocated the minority ethnic groups besides banning the use of minority language (William 449). Leading Christian missionaries and Buddhist monks were killed and churches and temples burned (Williams 450). These provide pieces of evidence that the ethnic groups as mentioned earlier were targeted or rather singled out for persecution.

These ethnic discriminations had some political and economic power instigation. For instance, the Khmer Rouge initiated a policy of expulsion which mainly targeted the ethnic group, Vietnamese. The reasons behind this policy were the strangling or rather poor political relationship between the Vietnam and the Cambodia in addition to the social stigma which had been projected towards the group. This social stigma was the reason behind a majority of the survivors of Khmer Rouge nation who have post-traumatic stress disorder. Through the period of the 1990s, no one in Cambodia acknowledged the existence of this disorder, and none of the survivors was offered any treatment. This allowed the illness to fester and some situations got worse. Hinton et al. (2013), argues that for anybody who has the post-traumatic stress disorder, almost anything out of the ordinary possibly would set off a panic that is heart-wrenching (445). These panics could prompt a heart attack for older people with heart trouble. Additionally, the American government concentrated more on the fight against Vietnam due to the poor political relationship that they had with the communist’s regimes, Cambodian being amongst them for the period of the genocide.

How Ethnic Identities or Ethnic Groups Changed

Three generations of the Cambodians currently live within Southern Ontario’s major cities. McLellan (2011), claims that a majority of the Ontario Khmer youth developed a feeling of lack of roots since they were born and raised in Canada (487). This points out the loss of ethnic identities as a result of the genocide. The Canadian-born Children are struggling to come to terms with the consequences of the genocide which fractured communities and families all together facing conflicted identities and extensive social marginalization (McLellan 484).


In summary, the dreadful events left countless people in shock besides leaving permanent emotional scars. The brutality associated with the genocide destroyed the peaceful existence of ethnic groups in Cambodia. The Cambodian communities and families were fractured leaving the survivors with conflicted ethnic identities. Thousands of lives were lost during the massacre totaling to about 20 percent of the total population of Cambodia. The act of repression by the Khmer Rouge regime that led to the genocide is uncalled for and could have been prevented as they took advantage of the preceding civil wars.

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Works Cited

McLellan, J. "Experiences of Genocide, Healing, Justice, and Peace Among Cambodians in Canada." Peace Review. 23.4 (2011): 484-490. Print.

The author takes us through the traumatizing and painful experiences of the Cambodian Genocide. McLellan describes the events as awful. The Cambodians were subjected to countless acts of brutality and killing, being under constant surveillance, lack of rest and food, and the hard labor in fields. The author says that the survivors of the Genocide speak of the unceasing feelings of terror, fear, and despair, family members being shot, watching their friends, parents and children die of starvation and far much worse the denial of mourning and performing death rituals. McLellan also illustrated in detail the process of healing, justice, and peace through resettlement and social activism by the youth.

Un Kheang (n.d). "Global Issues Cambodia." Governments of the world.

Kheang describes the history of the ancient Cambodian from being influenced by the Indian Culture and civilization to the events that led to the Genocide and eventually comprehensive political settlement of the year 1991. The author also explains the socioeconomic conditions as well as the quality of life that have been experienced by the Cambodian people over the years. Kheang goes on to illustrate the political and civil activities that took place after the Genocide.

Williams, Sarah. "Genocide: the Cambodian Experience." International Criminal Law Review. 5.3 (2005): 447-462. Print.

William provides a background to the regime of Khmer Rouge regime along with the nature of human rights violations that it perpetrated. Williams then evaluates whether the atrocities committed by Khmer Rouge in Cambodia amounted to genocide. The author also examines a variety of stages in an effort to render the perpetrators of these heinous acts accountable. The final part of the article gives a brief outline of the extraordinary chambers, sponsored by the United Nations, in the Cambodians courts for the Prosecution of Crimes Committed for the period of the Democratic Kampuchea.

Hinton, Devon E, Angela Nickerson, and Richard A. Bryant. "Prolonged Grief in Cambodian Refugees Following Genocide: Rebirth Concerns and Avoidance of Reminders." Journal of Loss and Trauma. 18.5 (2013): 444-460. Print.

The authors bring to light the sufferings and grief that the survivors of the Cambodian genocide went through. They focus on the consequences of prolonged grief. The authors focus on the the post-traumatic stress disorder caused by prolonged grief.

September 21, 2021

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