“The dead and near dead were scattered all over as far as my eyes could see. Even the relatives showed very little emotion because they knew that the dead would suffer no more. We were all like a bunch of living dead” (Yimsut). This is what survivor Ranachith Yimsut recalled seeing in a typical day of the Cambodian genocide. Led by the Khmer Rouge, which was the regime at that time, it was a mass murder of around two million Cambodians between 1975 and 1979. They were also known as the Communist Party of Kampuchea or the government, and took control of the whole country after capturing the capital of Cambodia in 1975. Pol Pot, the leader of the regime, wanted communism and a classless, utopian, farming society. Their four-year plan, which was to collectivize all private property and farm an average of three tons of rice per hectare. To do that, the “new people,” which were people who were educated, wore glasses, or had interactions with foreign governments, had to be removed, and the “old people,” who were the graziers, farmers, or the uneducated, were encouraged. Many were killed for this reason. The Khmer Rouge enforced themselves through torment, oppression, and authority.
Notably, the Khmer Rouge pinned themselves as potent symbols of regimes; they enforced themselves through torment of their citizens. Life in prison camps was negligent. Prisoners were photographed upon entrance and detained there for two to three months. The most scandalous of the one hundred and ninety-six camps was the Security Prison 21, infamously known as S-21. Inmates were chained to iron bars and starved. They were given a few teaspoons of thin grain pottage along with sloppy leaf soup twice a day. Officials saw starvation as an effortless way to kill citizens without feeding them, which resulted in many deaths. Sophal Leng Stagg, a survivor of the Khmer Rouge government described her life when she was held in captivity. “I got sicker with each passing day. There was virtually no muscle left on my body at all, just skin and bones. My head was bigger than my trunk even though my body was swollen from starvation” (Stagg). Stagg states that people were starved as a way to die, since it was the easiest way to kill people. This caused many prisoners to become vulnerable and unable to do anything. Women who were inculpated with having relations with the Central Intelligence Agency or any foreign governments were captured as prisoners. They were then raped and killed. Theresa de Langis, a researcher who started the Cambodian Women’s Oral History Project: Surviving Genocide, states, “… rape was used throughout the country, and one of its typical forms was very systematic or at least methodical rapes, gang rapes of groups of women who were already determined to be enemies, raped before they were executed” (Langis). De Langis asserts that under the Khmer Rouge regime, women that were seen to be rivals or a threat to their so called “utopian” society were raped by guards and officials. In an attempt to build a society that promotes equality for everyone, the Khmer Rouge did just the antithetical, which was torture for many Cambodians. Under these tormenting tactics used by the Communist Party of Kampuchea, affliction took part of many prisoners’ lives.
Alternatively, the Khmer Rouge forced power upon themselves through oppression among Cambodians. Forced interviews were held between guards and prisoners. Social engineering, which is the control of people to spill personal or private information, was used. People were pressurized to detail their life and relations with foreign affairs. Often, they were compelled to devise their confessions into having activities with the Central Intelligence Agency or the Vietnam ministries, even if they had no relation with them. Guards were also oppressed into forcing false social engineering. In order for them to not be killed, they needed the prisoners to state fallacious declarations about their past, and all interrogations were documented.”If those guards hadn’t tortured a false accusation out of me, they would have been executed – I can’t say I would have behaved any differently in their position” (Mey). Chum Mey, one of the few survivors of the Cambodian genocide, states how the false confessions were told and why they had to be done. The Khmer Rouge took a huge part of this, needing prisoners to confess false statements of themselves so they had a reason to be imprisoned. Forced labor was notorious upon inmates. The day started at four thirty in the morning, and many were crammed into trucks at once. They were sent to fields and forced to plough the land by hand for farming. Because they had primitive knowledge in farming, numerous amounts of people died of exhaustion. Prisoners were driven to work with a scarcity of food supply. Labor camps, which were poorly designed detention areas for prisoners who executed heavy work, subjected the people to toil a gruesome twelve hours a day. “Every day, people died in the village. Every morning, they were hauling away a corpse” (Affonço). Denise Affonço, a survivor of the Cambodian genocide, shares her experience of forced labor. People in labor camps received poor treatment and often overworked due to naive understanding of cultivation. The Khmer Rouge’s schemes of forced labor certainly did not raise tons of crops; the land’s defective irrigation systems made their work almost useless. Likewise, Cambodians were held at gunpoint when they forcibly left their homes. They were threatened to leave with the Khmer Rouge as a prisoner or die on the spot. This made them heed to the guards’ orders, and this method was used to capture nearly every single family. The oppression strategy was used among prisoners to force them to obey orders.
On the other hand, authority led the Khmer Rouge to enforce themselves. Thought control was prevalent amid the country. Since the government prohibited family relationships, they brainwashed children into thinking their parents were enemies, and the Khmer Rouge was the only significant point in their life. Children were told to spy on their parents and look out for any events that perpetrate the government’s pride. “…to brainwash those children, teaching them to hate their parents and love the Angkar, because it was Angkar who raised them rather than their parents…child soldiers as young as six were trained to heartlessly execute ‘enemies’ and butcher their parents” (Chen 11-12). Chen strongly expresses the brainwash that the children undergo in order to fulfill the wishes of the Khmer Rouge. The government was aware of the fact that the children are killing the parents; it is what they want the young to do to remove all their enemies. The children believe what they are told because they are young and uneducated. Similarly, there was the recruitment of child soldiers who were indoctrinated to kill the “new people.” The Cambodians were also brought to livelihood meetings where they would be propagandized into the government’s paragons. Moreover, these meetings stood as a chance for the prisoners to reveal their wrongdoings, which would be commended by the officials. These confessions would take a toll on them as execution would soon happen. Powerful leaders were also a main cause of power. The Khmer Rouge, headed by powerful leaders, served as a critical form of power. Pol Pot, notoriously known as Brother number one, led the Khmer Rouge with his remorseless tactics. Pot’s regime gained support from fellow neighboring countries’ troops and captured the capital of Cambodia. “Pol Pot’s communism brought with it images of new hope and national tranquility for Cambodia. …Pol Pot’s force had grown to over 700,000 men. Within days of the Khmer Rouge takeover of Phnom Phen, Pol began implementing his extremist policies of collectivization. The government confiscated and took control of all property including schools, hospitals, various other societal institutions, and communal labor” (World Without Genocide). Under Pot’s idea of a utopian agrarian society, he subjugated every single citizen. From there, the Cambodian genocide started. These strong commanders and chiefs enabled the country to become poor, depopulated society. The Khmer Rouge did not just use these manoeuvres; they took things to another level: isolating the country. The government wanted the initiation of “Year Zero,” which was having the country start have a complete restart. Anything related to education or customs would be abolished, and a new reform would start. In this case, abolishment meant the “new people.” No one outside the country knew what was happening, and this was how power was influential among leaders. Jurisdiction among the Khmer Rouge permitted them to have extreme control over the society.
The Khmer Rouge forced themselves through anguish, despotism, and supremacy. The torture of prisoners, oppression among the Cambodians, and overpowering the society was what the government espoused to achieve their utopian society. The Cambodian genocide caused many deaths through barbaric ways, and survivors have told about the brutal regime of the Khmer Rouge. It is clear that the mass murder put lives in danger but has failed to build an ideal society. The intention to transform all individuals to low-class people not only failed, but also built a bad reputation on the ruthless leaders. Given these points, the Cambodian genocide has affected millions and taken away their human rights.