Definition of Genocide

The deliberate and systematic destruction of a racial, political, or cultural group. N. (1944) [genos Greek: race, kin; cida, from caedere Latin: to cut, to kill].

The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, adopted in 1948, declared that genocide was any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group, as such:

  • Killing members of the group.
  • Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group.
  • Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.
  • Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group.
  • Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

Definition of Genocide

A Brief History of the Cambodian Genocide

Text below replicated in whole from The Campaign To End Genocide []

When? 1975 to 1979

Where? Kampuchea / Cambodia

Estimated Numbers – 1.7 million people killed out of a population of 8 million (21% of the country’s population).

Background & The Genocide

Cambodia traditionally has suffered from ethnic rivalry leading to several exchanges of political power between the substantial Vietnamese minority and the Buddhist Khmer majority. When independence came in 1953, Prince Norodom Sihanouk took charge of the newly born state. A revolution led by General Lon Nol in 1970 temporarily dispelled the government. This government attempted to suppress the Communist and Vietnamese presence. In the meantime, the small Communist group, the Khmer Rouge, grew in popularity and by 1975 was able to take over, proclaiming the Republic of Democratic Kampuchea.

In asserting its new power, the Party began a campaign of cleansing from 1975 to 1978. The Kampuchean Communist Party’s interpretation of the state required destruction of cities and the foreign-educated elite in order to rustify, or to make rural, the country. The goal was a centralized communal organization of atheistic factory workers and peasant farmers free of external support. Cities were raided and people relocated to communal farms. Most people were left to starve or work to death. Although international organizations offered aid to the demolished population, the government refused outside assistance.

Ethnically, the targets of the cleansing were Vietnamese and Chinese nationals, Muslims (particularly ethnic Chams), and Buddhist monks. They all were virtually, if not entirely, eliminated from the population by expulsion, execution, or starvation.

The Vietnamese had long been in conflict with Kampuchea and responded to the violence against its nationals. A Vietnamese invasion in 1979 replaced the government with moderate Communists sympathetic to Vietnam’s interests. The Khmer Rouge became a guerilla organization and began a civil war that continued until a tenuous peace was reached in 1991. A new coalition government (excluding the Khmer Rouge) under United Nations guidance took power. Cambodia since has taken steps toward trying members of the Khmer Rouge as war criminals.

International observers have been hesitant to call the Khmer Rouge’s actions genocide. Since the motivation of the perpetrators was generally political, the case does not fit in the common United Nations definition for genocide, but other definitions include the Cambodian genocide as one of the most horrific. Often, the 1979 Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia that deposed Pol Pot during the America’s controversial Vietnam War is instead the focus of criticism since the US backed the Lon Nol government as one of its anti-Communism spheres of influence. Only in the past few years have international organizations, including the UN, begun to acknowledge the crimes. The new Cambodian government is preparing to summon a war crimes tribunal. Yet, international observers who believe that the government’s court cannot credibly try the Khmer Rouge perpetrators have asked the United Nations to mediate.

The Khmer Rouge and Cambodia: A Chronology

Courtesy of the Associated Press []

Saloth Sar, later known as Pol Pot, goes to Paris on government scholarship and becomes absorbed with communist ideology.

Pol Pot sets up communist party after Cambodia’s independence from France.

Pol Pot becomes party’s general-secretary. Flees to jungle to escape repression by Cambodia’s ruler, Prince Norodom Sihanouk.

Khmer Rouge takes up arms in support of peasant against a government rice tax. Army suppresses insurrection.

Civil war begins after right-wing coup topples Sihanouk.

Khmer Rouge seizes power, begins doomed experiment in agrarian communism. Up to 2 million people die over four years from starvation, overwork and execution.

Vietnam invades Cambodia to stop Khmer Rouge border attacks. Phnom Penh falls to Vietnamese two weeks later.

Last time Pol Pot seen by outsiders.

All Cambodian factions sign peace agreement.

Khmer Rouge boycotts U.N.-supervised general election.

April 1996
Unconfirmed rumors that Pol Pot has died.

August 1996
Government announces Khmer Rouge breakup. Pol Pot’s brother-in-law, Ieng Sary, leads 10,000 guerrillas to defect.

June 13, 1997
Pol Pot reportedly orders top general Son Sen and family killed; hard-liners split into factions. Officials offer a series of conflicting accounts on Pol Pot’s fate.

June 20
Former comrades capture Pol Pot, both rival co-prime ministers say.

July 1997
A “people’s tribunal” held at the guerrillas’ last stronghold in northern Cambodia condemns Pol Pot for crimes that included the killing of the group’s longtime guerrilla defense minister, Son Sen, and his family.

April 9
United States offers assistance to any effort to bring Pol Pot before an international tribunal.

April 15
Pol Pot dies in his sleep, at 73, Khmer Rouge officials say.

Additional Information

  • Yale Genocide Project
  • History Place: Genocide in the 20th Century
  • Digital Archive of the Cambodian Holocaust Survivors
  • Chalk, Frank and Kurt Jonassohn, The History and Sociology of Genocide: Analyses and Case Studies. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1990.
    Totten, Samuel, et al., Century of Genocide: Eyewitness Accounts and Critical Views. New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1997.