Verfasst von: rbontour | März 8, 2011

Cambodia – Crime Against Humanity

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Since we started our journey, Cambodia’s shocking history has always been on our minds. It’s not long ago that the barbarian Pol Pot regime and his murderous Khmer Rouge army administered terrible atrocities and mass killings of their own population. It was between 1975 and 1979 that Cambodia suffered one of the most devastating genocides of the twentieth century.  Hence, before we blog about our travel adventures, we find it much more important to raise awareness of the country’s most recent history. (Yes, because if we think about what happened to all these people here, our world trip stories appear so damn trivial and insignificant…).

Massacre Of Own People
Although we’ve just spent a couple of days in Cambodia, we immediately recognized that the ratio between “young” and “old” citizens is quite distorted. (Note: More precisely we are currently in Siem Reap and the surrounding countryside… It’s the city with one of the most famous monuments around the world, “Angkor Wat”). Especially in the city we are surrounded by many young people and in general we notice a surplus of women. At first sight this may look quite dynamic, but the truth behind the bigger picture is actually very sad: it’s not only the fact that Cambodia has a high birth rate as most other countries in Southeast Asia – it’s also because of the homicidal 1970’s, in which more men than women lost their lives. The Khmer Rouge, an ill-mannered communist guerilla army in Cambodia, took power in 1975. Under the leadership of dictator Pol Pot, they “restarted” the country at Year Zero. During the years of war, terror and slaughter, more than 1.7 million people died; some studies claim it were over 3 million people!

Forced Labor, Torture & Executions
Pol Pot, who studied in France, had the idea to introduce a so-called agrarian socialism. They started in the capital, Phnom Penh, and over time all cities and provincial towns were completely evacuated. People were banished from their homes so that over 2.5 million people were forced into labor camps in the countryside. The people had to grow rice in the most primitive way. Men, women and children worked up to 16 hrs. in the fields – day in and day out – weather conditions or illness didn’t matter. It was hard physical work and laborers had to survive with 2 ridiculously small portions of rice per day. Some days there was not even rice. There was nothing!

The Pol Pot regime robbed the population’s freedom, their happiness and their religion. Buddhism was banned, there was no more praying and to publicly show love within your family was forbidden and resulted in punishment. In public, people had to address each other as “comrades”, everyone had to wear uniform clothes… the communists treated them literally like slaves – worse than farmers would treat their livestock. A prison without walls! Disobedience was terribly punished with torture, rape, abuse and immediate execution. In a book about a woman, who survived the Pol Pot years in Cambodia, we read that for many people “death sounded like a relief”, because if you could escape execution, there was still famine and deadly infectious diseases as you basically had to live in the dirt. The most common diseases: malaria and dysentery (Ruhr).

Easier To Rule a Dumb Nation
Also there was no more space for academics, doctors and other intellectuals, Pol Pot’s motto probably was: “It’s a lot easier to rule a dumb nation”. Educated people with common sense were chased, terrorized, tortured, and executed. They were almost completely eradicated in Cambodia. For instance, a lack of teachers remains a major problem ever since (and this is the reason why we decided to do some volunteer work in an orphanage).

Why History Class?
Reading about this cruelty makes you want to scream! And if we think about the fact that children in high school are not even taught about these historical events, we want to scream even louder. At least, this was (and is still) the case in high school in Germany. We are surprised and find it extremely sad how little is known about things like the Cambodian genocide or the US secret bombings in Laos among the younger crowd in the Western world. Well, we can only speak about Germany, but in history class the stone age, the middle age or a bunch of kings and queens seemed like a never-ending story. There was just no time to study about the most recent events! How ridicules… after all, the most recent history still influences the present and our future… correct?!?!

A Start From „0“
Well, anyways… due to the fact that Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge refused any form of progress, Cambodia still belongs to one of the poorest global countries. In Southeast Asia it’s the poorest country right behind Myanmar. For sure, the regime’s purge will remain unforgettable (as many other genocides in the world… Nazi-Germany, Rwanda, Somalia, etc.). They predict it may take Cambodia another 10 years (at least) to recover from their dark historical destiny and until they may be able to enjoy an economical standard that is similar to Thailand. After the Vietnamese toppled Cambodia’s bloodthirsty regime, the people had to start from ZERO…

Khmer Rouge Trials Still Underway…
What is quite unbelievable is that after 30 years, the investigations and trials of the international war crime tribunal is not even completed. The Khmer Rouge’s leaders, such as Pol Pot, have died in the meantime! Concluding judicial decisions against defendants of the former guerilla army are expected by the end of 2011.

Back to Humanity
Finally, we are no historians, but we hope that we could illustrate the core of Cambodia’s Pol Pot history correctly and in an easy-to-understand way. As mentioned before, we are currently working in an orphanage outside of Siem Reap. We have a wonderful time with the kids and besides we can support the orphanage’s medical center. It’s an absolutely new experience for us. More about our time as volunteers in our next blog… Take care!


  1. Dear Brigitte and Robert, this report hit my feelings a lot s well, but I remember very much when I was younger at this time when it was happened – I remember the Cambodia war but especially Vietnam, is all crazy, we can talk a lot about it when we meet later tonight, I’m happy to see you both after you left LGA New York in early August 2010, greetings and Bussi Dad

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