Khmer Rouge

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The Khmer Rouge (ខ្មែរក្រហម; Kmae Krɑhɑɑm) was the ruling political party in Cambodia from 1975 to 1979. During that period, Cambodia was renamed the Democratic Kampuchea. The term Khmer Rouge, meaning "Red Khmer", was coined by Norodom Sihanouk to refer to Communist parties in Cambodia, and later came into widespread use by English speakers.

The Khmer Rouge is most well-known for its genocide of over two million people, or an estimated fifteen to thirty percent of Cambodia's population at the time. In terms of the fraction of the population killed, the Khmer Rouge is ranked as one of the most lethal regimes of the 20th century. These deaths were caused in part when the Khmer Rouge imposed an extreme form of social engineering, such as forcing the entire population into labor on collective farms and other forced labor projects, on Cambodian society. The Khmer Rouge also tortured and eventually executed everyone considered as belonging to any of several categories of "enemies".


The Khmer Rouge originated in the 1960s, as the armed wing of the Communist Party of Kampuchea. It initially accomplished little, until a right-wing military coup took over from Prince Norodom Sihanouk. At that time, the Khmer Rouge allied with Sihanouk, gaining support.

During the Vietnam War, North Vietnam invaded and occupied parts of Cambodia to use as military bases, which contributed to the violence of the Cambodian civil war between the pro-American government of Lon Nol and the insurgents. Documents uncovered from the Soviet archives reveal that the North Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia in 1970 was launched at the request of the Khmer Rouge after negotiations with Nuon Chea.[1] US and South Vietnamese forces responded to these actions with a bombing campaign and ground incursion, the effects of which are disputed by historians.[2]

After a five-year civil war, the Khmer Rouge gradually gained control of rural areas, eventually taking Phnom Penh in 1975.

Number of victims

Modern research has located 20,000 mass graves from the Khmer Rouge era all over Cambodia. Various studies have estimated the death toll at between 740,000 and 3,000,000, most commonly between 1.4 million and 2.2 million, with perhaps half of those deaths being due to executions, and the rest from starvation and disease.[3]

The U.S. State Department-funded Yale Cambodian Genocide Project estimates approximately 1.7 million.[4] R. J. Rummel, an analyst of historical political killings, gives a figure of 2 million.[5]

A UN investigation reported 2–3 million dead, while UNICEF estimated 3 million had been killed.[6] Demographic analysis by Patrick Heuveline suggests that between 1.17 and 3.42 million Cambodians were killed,[7] while Marek Sliwinski estimates that 1.8 million is a conservative figure.[8] Researcher Craig Etcheson of the Documentation Center of Cambodia suggests that the death toll was between 2 and 2.5 million, with a "most likely" figure of 2.2 million. After 5 years of researching grave sites, he concluded that "these mass graves contain the remains of 1,386,734 victims of execution".[3]

Martin Shaw described these atrocities as "the purest genocide of the Cold War era."[9]

  1. Dmitry Mosyakov, "The Khmer Rouge and the Vietnamese Communists: A History of Their Relations as Told in the Soviet Archives," in Susan E. Cook, ed., Genocide in Cambodia and Rwanda (Yale Genocide Studies Program Monograph Series No. 1, 2004), p54ff. Can be accessed at: "In April–May 1970, many North Vietnamese forces entered Cambodia in response to the call for help addressed to Vietnam not by Pol Pot, but by his deputy Nuon Chea. Nguyen Co Thach recalls: “Nuon Chea has asked for help and we have liberated five provinces of Cambodia in ten days.”"
  2. Chandler, David 2000, Brother Number One: A Political Biography of Pol Pot, Revised Edition, Chiang Mai, Thailand: Silkworm Books, pp. 96-7.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Sharp, Bruce (April 1, 2005). Counting Hell: The Death Toll of the Khmer Rouge Regime in Cambodia. Retrieved on July 5, 2006.
  4. Cambodian Genocide Program | Yale University. (July 18, 2007). Retrieved on July 27, 2010.
  5. Rummel, RJ, "Statistics of Cambodian Democide: Estimates, Calculations, And Sources.". Retrieved on July 27, 2010.
  6. William Shawcross, The Quality of Mercy: Cambodia, Holocaust, and Modern Conscience (Touchstone, 1985), p115-6.
  7. Heuveline, Patrick (2001). "The Demographic Analysis of Mortality in Cambodia." In Forced Migration and Mortality, eds. Holly E. Reed and Charles B. Keely. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press.
  8. Marek Sliwinski, Le Génocide Khmer Rouge: Une Analyse Démographique (L'Harmattan, 1995).
  9. Theory of the Global State: Globality as Unfinished Revolution by Martin Shaw, Cambridge University Press, 2000, pp 141, ISBN 978-0-521-59730-2