Children in Uganda
Remains of Victims of the
Cambodian Genocide

The Cambodian Killing Fields:
A Genocide since the Holocaust

by Lavinia, Lindsey, Sara
December 6, 2005

web project for Prof. Marcuse's lecture course
Interdisciplinary Perspectives on the Holocaust

UC Santa Barbara, Fall 2005
(course homepage, web projects index page)

Cambodian Genocide
Web Project Index Page

Project Introduction (back to top)

Wikipedia: Towards the end of the Second World War, when the full horror of the extermination and concentration camps in Nazi Germany became public knowledge, Winston Churchill stated that the world was being brought face to face with 'a crime that has no name.' Historians now call the mass extermination of innocent people ‘genocide’. The term genocide has come to define a systematic killing of substantial numbers of people on the basis of ethnicity, religion, political opinion, social status or other particularity.

pbs frontline: Genocide is distinguishable from all other crimes by the motivation behind it. History was of little use in finding a recognized word to fit the nature of the crime that Nazi Germany, a modern, industrialized state, had engaged in. There simply were no precedents in regard to either the nature or the degree of the crime. Raphael Lemkin, a Polish-born adviser to the United States War Ministry, saw that the world was being confronted with a totally unprecedented phenomenon and that 'new conceptions require new terminology.' In his book, Axis Rule in Occupied Europe, Lemkin coined the word 'genocide', constructed from the Greek word 'genos' which means race or tribe and the Latin suffix 'cide' which means to kill. According to Lemkin, genocide signifies "the destruction of a nation or of an ethnic group" and implies the existence of a coordinated plan, aimed at total extermination, to be put into effect against individuals chosen as victims purely, simply and exclusively because they are members of the target group. It included not only physical genocide, but also acts aimed at destroying the culture and livelihood of a group of people.

The world now realized how lethal this notion of genocide was, and there was a need not just to protect its citizens from such a horrendous act but also to prevent a further human disaster of such a tremendous scale from repeating itself. This was when the United Nations (UN), previously known as the League of Nations, realized that as a global unit, it was the only institution with the power and faculty to help enact such international laws to protect human rights. Ironically, these laws never seemed to carry much effect as the remaining part of the 20th century and the 21st century today has witnessed one too many genocides. One prominent genocide that shocked the world with its inhumane atrocities was the Cambodian genocide led by the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s. This paper explores the genesis and dynamics of this genocide whilst historically examining the trials of the perpetrators of the Cambodian genocide to determine whether justice was ever served. We also scrutinize the media portrayal of the Cambodian genocide through a movie review of the Killing Fields and relate how this genocide was fundamentally very much similar to the Holocaust.

This web project about the current (2005) genocide in Cambodia is comprised of the following three papers:

Conclusion (back to top)

As such, even though the world does not want to admit that horrible things, such as killing mass groups of people without a good reason still occur today, it cannot be denied. The Holocaust was one of the first of these genocides to take place, and the world said that nothing like this could even happen again. Yet, it is possible for the world to not learn from its mistakes and there are many problems similar to the Jewish Holocaust to support this. The Cambodian genocide took place only about thirty years after the world witnessed one of the greatest hate crimes ever. It seems as if that laws and public education on tolerance and equality has fallen on deaf ears and as long as the world continues to exist, genocide as a concept may never die.

It seems appalling then to imagine that the United Nations, the upholder of world peace and harmony, only agreed to aid Cambodia in its efforts to serve justice to all those who were wantonly killed, in 2004--more than twenty five years after the genocide ended. As an international advocate of human rights, one then questions why a needy and devastated third world country was not given the help and support to bring its criminals to justice, just like how Germany had. Is this the legacy of the United Nations? Is it really simply a physical body that is mere talk and no action? Why were they only willing to help when other countries offered to pay the United Nations to trial the Khmer Rouge? It may be true that legal proceedings in the international court of law are expensive but given the United Nation’s rhetoric on the importance of human rights, this seems all glib to us. Moreover, the poor people in Cambodia (who are mostly illiterate and only speak Cambodian) probably have no idea that they experienced genocide or for that matter that others in the world had been to victim to such a curse? How would they feel if they really knew that the world had forgotten their pain, just because they were not economically prolific? What disturbs us the most in the study of the Cambodian genocide is what this speaks of us as a society today and if we are indeed apathetic enough to simply not do anything as long as our lives are not affected? Have we become a selfish and mercenary world that is only concerned with the material aspects of life? Why then bother killing other people if all one is interested in is money? After all, money is said to be the root of all evil but now genocide seems to be manifestation of this evil that the world has turned its back to.

Annotated Bibliography (back to top)

  1. Dith Pran, review of Film "The Killing Fields"
    Online Source: http//
    Pran, a Cambodian holocaust survivor and editor of the book Children of Cambodia’s Killing Fields: Memoirs by Survivors (Yale University Press, 1997), analyzes the film Killing Fields in terms of cinematography. He sheds light on the way the Cambodian landscape is portrayed as well as the actors in relation to the reality of the horrific situation. Pran discusses the way in which the director as well as photographers offers extremely skilled reproductions of the actual event. This site is particularly helpful in understanding the way in which a genocide like this could have happened.
    Written By: Lindsey Foster
  2. Ebert, Robert. The Killing Fields, (January 1, 1984)
    Online Source:
    This site has helped to analyze the different aspects of the film. It brings in insight from other areas of the world. He is successful at bringing in criticisms from other reviewers. I found this site helpful in trying to understand other people’s responses.
    Written by: Lindsey Foster
  3. Ebert, Robert. Swimming to Cambodia, (April 10, 1987)
    Online Source:
    This site was helpful in understanding the film, Swimming to Cambodia. When I first watched this film, I found it somewhat confusing in his portrayal as a monologue. Ebert’s review successfully helped clarify Gary’s actions. He explains criticisms and helps to solve them. This was helpful in analyzing this film because he offered counter perspectives.
    Written By: Lindsey Foster
  4. Kuhn, Wendy, The Killing Fields (1984) (November 30, 1999)
    Online Source:
    This site helps to recall important scenes in the filmThe Killing Fields. There are plenty of additional links on this site that brings up to the second information on the scenes. There are plenty of pictures, which help when you’re trying to recall a specific scene. There are also numerous movie reviews from other sources on this site.
    Written By: Lindsey Foster
  5. Hannum, Hans, International Law and Cambodian Genocide: The Sounds of Silence,
    Online Source:
    This article gives a comprehensive description of exactly what happened that led to the Khmer Rouge as well as what happened during the Khmer Rouge and if the perpetrators were ever brought to justice. It links the notion of genocide in relation to Cambodia and if international laws have helped the country cope with such a traumatic human setback.
    Written By: Denise Lavinia Selvakumar
  6. The Killing Fields (Roland Joffe, 1984)
    This movie portrays how the Cambodian genocide began and what happened during it. One of the main characters, Sydney Schanberg, is a New York Times journalist covering the civil war in Cambodia. Together with local representative Dith Pran, they cover some of the tragedy and madness of the war. When the American forces leave, Dith Pran sends his family with them, but stays behind himself to help Schanberg cover the event. As an American, Schanberg did not have any trouble leaving the country, but the situation is different for Pran; as he is a local, and the Khmer Rouge are moving in. The movie, as such, depicts his struggle in the concentration camps and his attempt to escape that drove him nearly to madness.
    Written By: Denise Lavinia Selvakumar
  7. François Ponchaud, Cambodia: Year Zero (New York: Holt Rinehart & Winston, 1978)
    This book gives a comprehensive description of exactly what happened that led to the Khmer Rouge as well as what happened during the Khmer Rouge and if the perpetrators were ever brought to justice. It links the notion of genocide in relation to Cambodia and if international laws have helped the country cope with such a traumatic human setback.
    Written By: Denise Lavinia Selvakumar
  8. Sophal Ear, "The Khmer Rouge Canon 1975-1979: The Standard Total Academic View on Cambodia," senior honors thesis, Department of Political Science, University of California, Berkeley, May 1995
    Online at:, December 2005
  9. Andy Carvin, From Sideshow to Genocide: The Khmer Rouge Years
    Online Source:
    This slideshow is by the director of the Digital Divide Network and developer of the website Edweb: Exploring Technology and School Reform. It is an excerpt from a school project on the Khmer Rouge. It outlines the important dates and events that the occurred during the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia.
    Written By: Denise Lavinia Selvakumar
  10. Khmer Rouge
    Online Source:
    This website gives a succinct overview of the Khmer Rouge and its effect on history.
    Written By: Denise Lavinia Selvakumar
  11. The Forgotten Genocide In Cambodia
    Online Source:
    A reflection on the events that transpired during the Cambodian genocide.
    Written By: Denise Lavinia Selvakumar
  12. Cambodian Genocide Program
    Online Source:
    This study on the Khmer Rouge was undertaken by Yale University as an outstanding example of a genocide that was never really acknowledged by the world and especially the USA. This centre for Cambodian genocide studies has a comprehensive guide to the history of Cambodia and provides one with many visual and aural evidence of this horrific event.
    Written By: Denise Lavinia Selvakumar

  13. The Khmer Rouge Trial Task Force
    Online Source:
    This website gives a very detailed chronology about the path to the trials. It gives information about the start of the court system and goes through the trial as it occurred. It takes from the starting point of June 21, 1997 through October 7, 2005. It begins by talking about how Cambodia asked for help from the United Nations and then goes into the different things that went on before the trials occurred and finally goes into what occurred and the outcome of the trials.
    Written By: Sara Smith
  14. Sipress, Alan, "Khmer Rouge Trials Stalled by Political Deadlock," Washington Post on May 5, 2004.
    Online Source:
    This article talks about how the trials have been postponed because of the political problems going on. The biggest problem is that they now have to get set up for the trials and they are still working on getting their government set up. The problem is trying to get everything ready for the trials and not running out of time to try these people. There is a fear that getting everything ready will take to much time and then they will not be able to try these people. The names are not given to the public but they are told that there are five to ten people who could be tried for this.
    Written By: Sara Smith
  15. Cambodia: War Crimes Tribunal from the Asia Today Special Report August 16, 2001.
    Online Source:
    This article is written before the trials have begun to be held. The main point of the article talks about what the court system at this time is going to be. For example that there will be five judges, two from Cambodia and two outside judges. It also briefly talks about what went on during the reign of these people and how long they were in power for and what those who were the captors went through during this time.
    Written By: Sara Smith
  16. Ratner, Steven, The United Nations Group of Experts for Cambodia in the American Journal of International Law, October 1999. Accessed via Jstor
    Online Source:
    This article talks about how the main people involved in this went into hiding or simply went back into the general populace after the genocide took place. It also looks to what went into putting together the trials and how it got help from the UN and other places into order to get this started. The biggest section of the article looks at what went into deciding where to hold the trials and what they looked at to decide what could and should be done.
    Written By: Sara Smith
  17. Borgna Brunner, "Who Was Who in the Khmer Rouge: Beyond Pol Pot and Ta Mok," March 1999; (accessed Dec. 7, 2005).
  18. Alain Destexhe, "The Crime of Genocide," from Rwanda And Genocide in the Twentieth Century (New York University Press, 1995). excerpt on PBS's Frontline website
    Alain Destexhe is the former Secretary General of Doctors Without Borders.

prepared for web by Harold Marcuse on12/6/05; last updated: 12/14/05
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