Cambodia's Veiled Atrocities Thirty Years and Counting

By Middlebury Campus

Author: Lauren Joseph

All college students have, at one time or another, studied the Holocaust. The disturbing facts and appalling pictures of emaciated victims have been ingrained in our heads. For just 60 years ago, these atrocious acts ravaged a continent and brutally seized the lives of millions. And the rest of the world was left aghast, with their eyes open to the harsh reality of humanity’s violent potential and the pain and detriment we are capable of inflicting. We would like to believe that we are innately altruistic, that we could not be guilty of such savagery and apathy to human suffering. And so our naïve souls have persuaded us that the world has progressed to acquire a greater appreciation of difference that will prevent history from repeating itself. However, just 30 years ago Cambodia suffered from a genocide that annihilated one-eighth of its population, paralleling in extremity to the genocide that caught the world’s attention. Today, the abuse continues with a political scene surrounded by impunity and corruption that infect the entire country. In a nation where poverty is rampant and hunger is tangible, the mangled bodies of tortured and harassed victims can be found on streets even as the jails remain vacant. Until these conditions gain the worlds attention and justice prevails, things will persist just as they have for the past 30 years.

With the termination of a civil war that had been tormenting the nation for five years, Cambodia’s citizens were hopeful that a new government would remedy their impoverished lifestyle. However, in 1975 when the Khmer Rouge took control, the opposite proved to be true as the bleak conditions were only exacerbated. Cities were evacuated and the population flooded into the countryside. And with the goal of transforming Cambodia into a self-sufficient communist state, a genocide began that drowned the nation in hunger, torture and fear. Teachers, doctors, all symbols of western culture were eradicated, as intelligence was viewed as a threat. All printed material, including books, private property and Buddhism were banned. At one prison, 14,000 prisoners were questioned about their beliefs and tortured with brutal tactics to extract information. When the Khmer Rouge were satisfied with what they heard, the prisoners were assassinated. Of those 14,000, there are seven known survivors. Numbers as extreme as this were common, as the Khmer Rouge carried out mass executions in which victims were forced to dig their own mass graves. Food was unevenly distributed, starving an already desperate population. During the four years of the Khmer Rouge’s reign, there were incalculable numbers of human rights violations that, in the end, resulted in an estimated one and a half million deaths.

However, 30 years later, the abuse continues. With aid from the United Nations, Amnesty International, the United States and other countries, the future is looking less and less ominous, with an optimism that may prove to ameliorate conditions in the long-run. However, the government’s state is still extremely precarious, for in the past few years there have been dozens of unlawful murders as a result of political affiliations. Many have been tortured, harassed, threatened and even forced to sign false confessions, while still others have fled for their lives into exile. With a weak and corrupt judicial system, very few have been held accountable, meaning the perpetrators still freely roam the streets. As of now, a true democracy is unable to exist. And until justice prevails and a fear is instilled across the nation of the repercussions for committing unlawful acts, the fundamental rights we take for granted daily will be an illusory ideal.

You may give your support by purchasing a cookie at the upcoming bake sale, to be held Monday, December 3rd in Proctor. All proceeds will be donated to Amnesty’s campaign to stop torture and protect human rights.