The Trial of Cambodia’s Genocidal Leaders Is Nearing a Verdict

More than 30 years after the fall of the Khmer Rouge, trials of the group’s genocidal leaders are inching closer to a verdict

Children stand near a memorial at Cambodia’s killing fields
Children stand near a memorial at Cambodia’s killing fields United Nations

The Cambodian genocide was the “worst genocide since the holocaust,” said CNN reporter Christiane Amanpour in the 2008 documentary Scream Bloody Murder. From 1975 to 1979, as many as 1.7 million people died,  at the hands of or because of the conditions set by the Khmer Rouge. That’s nearly a quarter of the country’s population.

It’s been more than 30 years since the Khmer Rouge fell, but to this day most of those responsible for the genocide have not been tried or punished. Many of the Khmer Rouge’s leadersincluding Pol Pot, died before they could be judged. Trials have been underway for years, says the Associated Press, and now closing statements have begun, with a verdict inching ever closer. The AP explains:

To make a massive indictment more manageable, the court decided in 2011 to split the case into smaller trials that would examine the evidence in rough chronological order. It was feared that the aging, infirm defendants might not survive long enough to complete more comprehensive proceedings, depriving victims of even a modicum of justice.

The consequence, though, is that the justice that victim will receive will be somewhat limited. “The present trial’s focus on the forced movement of people excludes some of the gravest charges related to genocide, detention centers and killings,” says the AP.

Lead by Pol Pot, the Khmer Rouge took over the Cambodia on April 17, 1975seized all private property, and forced families into hard labor. “Between 1975 and 1979, roughly 17,000 people, labeled traitors, tortured in order to extract “confessions” and systematically executed outside of the capital,” says PBS. Thousands more were put into chain gangs, or executed at the country’s notorious killing fields.

The Cambodian genocide is a recent event, and many Cambodians—those still living in the country, or those that escaped, hopping their way across the world through refugee camps—still carry, says the Globe and Mail, “memories of mistreatment, starvation and torture of loved ones lost who were killed or simply disappeared.”

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