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Despite the international community pledge, genocides still happen: A quick glance toward Cambodia’s modern history

신인호 | 기사입력 2022/06/29 [12:13]

Despite the international community pledge, genocides still happen: A quick glance toward Cambodia’s modern history

신인호 | 입력 : 2022/06/29 [12:13]



Cambodia, with the capital city of Phnom Penh, is a country located in Southeast Asia, sandwiched between Thailand and Vietnam. With rich culture, tradition and long history, this small country was once in the limelight of Southeast Asia, dubbed “the Pearl of Southeast Asia.” However, all of this changed when the darkest chapter of Cambodia’s modern history swept over the country.

 

From 1975 until 1979, over 1 million Cambodians were killed and up to 2 million died from hunger and forced labor. The Democratic Kampuchea regime, which is also known as the Khmer Rouge regime (called the Pol Pot regime among local people), took control of Cambodia on April 17th, 1975. The Khmer Rouge aimed to bring Cambodia to “Year Zero.” They started to implement their radical Maoist and Marxist-Leninist transformation program as they wanted to create an agrarian utopian society. In April of the same year, which was the auspicious month to celebrate Khmer New Year, two million people in Phnom Penh and other cities were forcefully exiled into the countryside to undertake agricultural work. This was only the start of the brutality of the Khmer Rouge regime.

 

So many people were killed including the ethnic Vietnamese, Cham Muslims, intellectuals, government officials of the previous regime (Lon Nol regime from 1970-1975), teachers and even those who wore glasses and could speak foreign languages.

The Khmer Rouge forbade people from showing any kind of affection, humor or pity when they witnessed the act of killing a man. They could also get executed if their behavior was perceived as an act against the Angkar (the Khmer Rouge called themselves Angkar Padevat, which means revolutionary organization). Additionally, a family relationship was heavily criticized because the people needed to only believe, obey and respect the Angkar. Any kind of entertainment, religious practice and personal belongings were forbidden because everything, even the insects and the crops planted at home, belonged to the Angkar. Everyone had to wear black clothes and women had to cut their hair neck-length.

 

For 3 years 8 months and 20 days, everyone under the regime had to work against their will. Heavier tasks were given to those over the age of fourteen. They had to dig canals and reservoirs, build dikes, cut logs, clear land for cultivation, and plant and harvest rice with manpower only, without any proper equipment and adequate machinery. The living conditions of the people only got worse when the Khmer Rouge started to conduct the Four Years Plan (1977-1980), which aimed at achieving a national yield of three tons of rice per hectare. Under this plan, people were forced to work more than 12 hours a day, without sufficient rest or enough portions of food, with no more than a spoonful of rice a day. As a result, planned production was rarely reached because people did not have enough energy to work or any hope in life because the population kept getting killed by the Khmer Rouge.

 

The Khmer Rouge regime collapsed in 1979 after the invasion of the Vietnamese troops. Even after the Khmer Rouge regime collapsed, millions of survivors have struggled with their physical and mental trauma. Today, there are 5 million Khmer Rouge survivors left as witnesses of the brutality of the Khmer Rouge regime. Many of them are still trying to search for their lost family members or their bodies and struggling to rebuild their family once again. Even now, some are still mourning for the loss of their entire family by the inhumane regime.

 

More than 20 years after the Khmer Rouge regime ended, a hybrid court created by the United Nations and the Government of Cambodia called the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) was established to bring the most responsible leaders of the Khmer Rouge regime to trial for their crimes against humanity. The court phased out in 2018 after only convicting three leaders of the Khmer Rouge regime. Two leaders died during their trials, while the Khmer Rouge top leader Pol Pot had died long before the court was established in 1998, and his military chief Ta Mok, in 2006 before the trials began.

 

I am among the 11 million young Cambodians born after the genocide took place in our country, but my parents are the survivors of this brutal regime. This tragedy wreaked havoc on the whole country and it still leaves its mark on Cambodian society to this day. When we look at world history, the Khmer Rouge regime was not the only one nor the first one. After the Holocaust which happened during World War II, the world came together for the “Never Again,” but we have instead seen “Time and Again” with the rise of genocide cases and mass atrocities.

 

I believed we must remain vigilant in raising awareness about mass atrocities and act in time to prevent them from escalating. We must learn from history, understand it well, and take proper action at an appropriate time. At the same time, we should not stay silent over the issue of genocides. We have a moral responsibility for the prevention of mass atrocities. Peace, justice, and harmony will prevail when we stand in solidarity to embrace empathy, human rights, respect for diversity, and stand up against hatred, discrimination, racism, and social injustice.



Sovicheth Meta is a Cambodian student currently pursuing her master degree of Civil Society Leadership as part of the pioneer batch of the KOICA-AJOU University scholarship program. She obtained her Bachelor of Arts degree in International Relations from the Institute of Foreign Language of the Royal University of Phnom Penh in 2018. Before continuing her graduate study in South Korea, she worked for the Documentation Center of Cambodia (DC-Cam), which catalogues historical materials from the genocidal Khmer Rouge period from 1975-1979. — Ed

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