History

“Khmer bodies, Vietnamese minds”

Genocide & justice in Cambodia

by Vinita Ramani

From 1975–1979, over 1.7 million people died brutally at the hands of the ultra-communist Khmer Rouge regime. In November 2018, a United Nations-backed international tribunal ruled that these acts constituted crimes against humanity and genocide. But is it enough to help Cambodians come to terms with their brutal past?

Genocide in Cambodia

The senior leaders of Democratic Kampuchea. Photo credit: Khmer Rouge Tribunal (ECCC)

Cambodians often say “Khmer killed Khmer” and that the country became a “prison without walls”.
The rise of communism in Indochina

B-52 Stratofortress releasing a 'bomb train' over targets in Vietnam.

Second Indochina War. Pluvier, Jan M. ‘Historical Atlas of South-East Asia’. New York: E.J. Brill, 1995.

A forced marriage between two Khmer Rouge cadres that took place at S-24, one of the numerous prisons established by Democratic Kampuchea. Photo credit: Documentation Center of Cambodia.

S-21 (Tuol Sleng Prison)

The main building of S-21, or Tuol Sleng prison in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

Bou Meng and Chum Mey attending the hearings at the Khmer Rouge Tribunal on 3 February 2012. They were both civil parties for a case against Kaing Guek Eav, aka Duch. Photo credit: Khmer Rouge Tribunal (ECCC)

Vietnamese detainee from S-21 or Tuol Sleng prison. Photo credit: Documentation Center of Cambodia

A sign at S-21 highlighting regulations that applied to detainees.

“Khmer Bodies, Vietnamese Minds”

A map showing the changing borders defining Khmer and Vietnamese territories, as well as Khmer Kampuchea Krom, from the 14th century to the 20th century. Illustration by Kontinentalist. Data from Pluvier, Jan M. ‘Historical Atlas of South-East Asia’. New York: E.J. Brill, 1995.

Wrapped in death: coded scarves and mass purges

Democratic Kampuchea divided into administrative zones, based on the original 1976 map used by the regime. Illustration by Kontinentalist. Data from Documentation Center of Cambodia.

Tun Soun, a Khmer Krom survivor, points to one of the mass grave sites near Wat Pratheat (pagoda) in Kiri Vong district, Takeo province. The area was one of Cambodia’s most notorious prison and torture centres. Photo credit: Justin Min (2010)

Genocide: an extraordinary crime

Khmer Krom villagers in Pursat province respond with a show of hands when asked if they want justice for the crimes they suffered under the Khmer Rouge. Photo credit: Rothany Srun (2010)

Justice delayed or justice denied?

64-year-old Khmer Krom monk May Sokhan talks about being tortured and disrobed by the Khmer Rouge. At Wat Pratheat pagoda, he is the "keeper of the bones" and has performed ceremonies for the deceased. Photo credit: Rothany Srun (2010)

Counsellors provide support for a survivor sharing his life story during a testimonial therapy session. Photo credit: Justin Min (2010)

Disclaimer: Our stories have been researched and fact-checked to the best of our abilities. Should you spot mistakes, inaccuracies, or have queries about our sources, please drop us an e-mail at hello@kontinentalist.com
Vinita Ramani / Writer

Vinita was an editor and writer at Kontinentalist. She has previously worked at Wildlife Reserves Singapore and co-founded an NGO to represent survivors of genocide in Cambodia before the Khmer Rouge Tribunal. She enjoys her daughter's animated babbling; swimming in oceans; Hindu mythology; ancient temple ruins; social justice and punk rock.

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Code / Rifqi Ruhyattamam
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