Genocides: Cambodia (Pol Pot) and Rwanda (1994)

Map of Cambodia
Map of Cambodia

Cambodia: Before the Genocide

Cambodia as a country
  • Cambodia (formerly known as Kampuchea) is a country in South East Asia and was the major center of Khmer kingdom. The capitol at the time of the Khmer era was Angkor, (while the present day capitol is Phnom Penh) which was famous for it's 12th century temples.
  • It's Independence was gained from the the French rule, which lasted 100 years, in 1953.
  • Cambodian population peaked at almost 7 million in the 1960s.

Tensions build
  • Prince Sinahouk reigned over Cambodia in 1944 to 1950, until he was depose
    Prince Sinahouk
    Prince Sinahouk
    d to the military in 19970. The new leader that took his place was Lon Nol. He was also made the president of the "Khmer Republic."
  • After this, Prince Sinahouk joined forces with the Khmer Rouge (a communist guerrilla organization founded in 1960).
  • Lon Nol's army was attacked by the Khmer Rouge and civil war began.

Times of War
  • Cambodia was already caught up in the Vietnam's war against the French to gain their independence. This war had divided Vietnam into two divisions: communist North Vietnam and pro-Western South Vietnam.
  • This caused civil war to once again break out. This time it was between Viet Cong (Vietnamese communists backed by North Vietnam) which fought the South Vietnamese in the jungles of their land.
  • The US army entered the scene of the war in 1964. As a means of "persuasion" many types of weapons were used by the US, such as: air power, firebombs, and poisonous defoliants. This Vietnamese communists could not be deterred though.
  • In the end of this war, not much was achieved. All that could be seen was devastated county that brought nothing but misery.
B-52 bomber airplane
B-52 bomber airplane
Survivor from a poisonous defloliant
Survivor from a poisonous defloliant

Cambodian Side of the War
  • Cambodia was generally neutral as it gave aid to both sides of the war. They allowed Vietnamese communists to use their ports to dock their ships for supplies. At the same time, the US was allowed to bomb Viet Cong hideouts.
  • When Lon Nol took over, the US troops felt that it was necessary to move into Cambodia to fight against the Viet Cong. Cambodia became a Vietnamese battlefield after this.
  • The US once against used state of the art weapons such as: American B-52 bombers and also napalm and dart cluster bombs. With these weapons, they killed over 750,000 Cambodians in an attempt to destroy North Vietnamese supply lines.

Pol Pot
Pol Pot

Khmer Rouge movement
  • The leader of the Khmer Rouge, Pol Pot (born Saloth Shar) admired the Maoist communism of China and became highly suspicious of Vietnamese relations with Cambodia.
  • New recruits were drawn to the Khmer Rouge due to the American bombardment of Cambodia.
  • Pol Pot's force grew to over 700,000 mean. With this powerful force, he seized the South Vietnamese capitol, Saigon. It was estimated that 156,000 died in the civil war, and half of said number were just civilians alone.

Cambodia: During the Genocide

Under Pol Pot leadership
  • Under Pol Pot leadership, after overthrowing the government) the Khmer Rouge's new mission was an extremist program to "reconstruct Cambodia." His reign was modeled after Mao Zedong's rule in China.

Actual Killings
Cambodian prisoners of war
Cambodian prisoners of war

  • All people (intellectuals, educated people, and anyone opposed to communism) were to be wiped out, under this new plan. No one was spared. The ill, disabled, old and very young were driven out of Cambodia with the threat of death. Even if this new plan was met with obedience, if the captured were not fast enough, they were still killed.
  • Many things were taken from the civilians under this rule. All civil and political rights were abolished. Children were taken from their parents and forced into labor camps. Factories, schools, universities, and hospitals were shut down. People of all professions were murdered (lawyers, doctors, teachers, engineers, scientists, and even other army members.) Religion was banned and all Buddhist monks were killed as well as most temples were destroyed. Even music and radio sets were banned.
  • The Khmer Rouge would find just about any reason to carry out their killings. If a civilian knew a foreign language, that was enough to justify their death in the Rouge's eyes. Wear glasses, laughing, and even crying meant death.
  • A popular slogan the Khmer Rouge was "To spare you is not profit, to destroy you is no loss." This basically meant that sparing you helps them in no way, so killing wouldn't matter anyway because there is no actual loss.
  • Civilian deaths were estimated at well over 2 million due to executions, disease, exhaustion and starvation.

  • Prisoners of the regime that had escaped became unpaid laborers who worked for minimum rations and impossibly long hours. Sleeping and eating in uncomfortable communes as far away from home as possible was also another hardship.
  • Personal relationships were discouraged as well as expressions of emotion between the escapees on job.
  • The workers became weak from overwork and starvation. Illness eventually occurred, of which there was no cure for, except death.

Groups that were Targeted
  • Those of ethnic Chinese decent faced the brunt of the hate and force of the Khmer Rouge. Vietnamese, Thai and Cambodians with either Chinese, Vietnamese or Thai ancestry were also attacked based purely on their race.
  • Religious groups such as Cham Muslims were also attacked, half were murdered. Over 8,000 Christians also fell.

Trouble Within the Ranks
Khmer Rouge killers
Khmer Rouge killers

  • Leaders of the Khmer Rouge became afraid of losing power near the ending of the genocide.
  • The fear of failing to prevent vengeance played a role in the increase of paranoia in the ranks.
  • Betrayal by ambitious rivals also lead to the impending trouble.
  • The Khmer Rouge repeatedly interrogated their own members. They were imprisoned and executed on the slightest suspicion of treachery or sabotage.

Cambodia: After the Genocide

Diminishing Power
  • Khmer Rouge's links with the China incited hostility between the Pol Pot government and Vietnam.
  • Vietnam invaded Kampuchea (Cambodia) and overthrew the Khmer Rouge in 1987.
  • Vietnam forged links with the Soviet Union and set up a new government composed mainly of former Khmer Rouge members.
  • Pol Pot's previous policies, known as the genocide, had basically ruined the economy. Virtually no foreign aid had been received and all the professionals, engineers technicians, and planners had already been killed off.

Aid for the Ailing Areas
  • American relief agencies came to the aid of the Khmer Rouge. Around 20,000 to 40,000 guerrillas that managed to reach Thailand received food aid.
  • The US insured that the Cambodian seat of the United Nations was held by the Khmer Rouge (and NOT the Vietnamese communist government).
  • The Cold War had a say in what allegiances and priorities were made between the nations in 1979.

American aid
  • The conflict still continued and the Khmer Rouge went on with fighting the Vietnamese government.
  • At this time, the Khmer Rouge was fully baked by the American and UK armies. The use of landmines was introduced due to the hostility of the communist Vietnam that still ensued.
  • Due to the aid of the West, the Khmer Rouge was able to hold up Cambodian's recovery for at least a decade.

Internal Pressures
  • Vietnam withdrew it's army from Cambodia due to the economic sanction of Cambodia by the US, and their cut off of aid from from their own financial and military backer, the Soviet Union.
  • In 1989 the last of the troops had finally left Cambodia, restoring it's name.
  • The conflict that occurred in 1978-1989 between the two countries killed about 65,000 people and 14,000 of them were civilians.

Buddha, symbol of Buddhism
Buddha, symbol of Buddhism

  • Buddhism, the state religion, was revived.
  • A peace argument between the opposing groups was signed in 1991, thus ending the conflicts within the nations.
  • Democratic elections for the leader of the new government were held in 1993. The former monarch, Prince Sihanouk was actually selected to lead the newly formed government.

  • The Khmer Rouge guerrillas opposed Cambodia's political reforms, but couldn't really do anything about it because of their failing organization.
  • Pol Pot accused one of his followers of treachery which lead the Khmers to arrest him and stage a show trail in 1997. The government arranged a tribunal to try and rid the Khmer Rouge leaders of their unfortunate past. Those that spoke out publicly blamed Pol Pot for the whole genocide and claimed to have no prior knowledge to the mass killings. People that could not speak for themselves (the deceased) were also blamed.

Rwanda: Before the Genocide

Tutsi (left) Hutu (middle) Twa (right)
Tutsi (left) Hutu (middle) Twa (right)

Hutu and Tutsi Background
  • The general population of Rwanda is divided into two predominate groups: Hutus (traditional crop growers) and Tutsis (traditional herdsman from northern Africa). Most of the population is comprised of Hutus. Both groups shared the farming business for about 600 years. This was an essential link for survival between them. Language, culture, and nationality were also shared among them. Intermarriage between the two groups was common.

Tensions Arise
  • Tutsis generally tended to be the landowners and Hutus were the ones that worked on said lands. With this division of labor, population imbalances could be seen. Hutus outnumbered the Tutsis. Once the European colonists arrived in Rwanda, tensions started to build.
  • The colonial administration selected a group to be the "intermediaries" between what they considered to be the governor and governed. This group would be privileged and receive and education. The Tutsis were chosen by the Belgians because they were landowners, tall, and had a more aristocratic appearance, according to the Europeans.
  • Rwandan society became unsettled with the introduction of this new "class" system. Some Tutsis actually began to behave like aristocrats, while the Hutus began to feel as if they were treated as peasants. The divide was then born.

The Hutus Attack
Rwandan Patrotic Front soldiers
Rwandan Patrotic Front soldiers

  • The European colonial powers introduced modern weapons and methods of waging war to Rwanda. Missionaries began arriving from Europe and with them came a new idea that changed the thinking ways of the Hutu: the church taught the Hutus to see themselves as oppressed. This helped inspire the revolution.
  • The Hutus met this new found idea with armed resistance. The rebellion began in 1956, which took more than 100,000 lives.
  • In 1959 the Hutus became a major power and started stripping Tutsi communities of their lands. This caused many Tutsis to retreat into exile in neighboring countries. In those countries they formed the Front Patriotique Rwandais, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) where they trained their very own soldiers while laying in wait.

Civil War Begins
  • The newly found, politically inexperienced Hutu government began to face internal conflicts in 1962. Tension grew between the communities and the factions within them.
  • Tutsi resistance was advocated by the measures that were put against them, such as being excluded from secondary schools and universities. The RPF attacked in 1990 and civil war began.

First sparks of Genocide
  • In 1993, ceasefire between the Hutu and RPF was achieved, but the Hutu leaders and extremists fiercely opposed any and all Tutsi involvement in the government.
  • On April 6, 1994, the plane that was carrying Rwanda's president was shut down by an unknown person or organization, but was most certainly thought to be the work of an extremist. The Tutsis were accused of killing the president as the Hutus were told by radio and word of mouth. These same people told the Hutus that it was their duty to wipe out the Tutsis. The first people on their list though, were their own kind: Hutus who weren't completely anti-Tutsi. Their Tutsi wive or husbands would also be killed off.

Rwanda: During the Genocide

Public Genocide
bodies covered in banana leaves
bodies covered in banana leaves

  • Up to a million people died before the RPF was able to take over full control.
  • One odd thing about this genocide was that it was never kept a secret. Journalist and TV crews reported on what they saw when the genocide was over. The UN force (UNAMIR) kept watch over the ceasefire and watched as people were killed in the street by various weapons, such as: grenades, guns and machetes. The reason why they did not step in and get involved was because of what they claimed, "We have no mandate to intervene."
  • Killers were constantly persuaded to continue, but as the radios advised, "No more corpses on the roads, please." Essentially there were so many bodies they were just pushed to the side of the road and covered in banana leaves as to not been seen in certain photography.

Hutus with machetes
Hutus with machetes
Hutu with gun
Hutu with gun

Mass Killings
  • The killings were carried out entirely by hand using close ranged weapons like machetes and clubs. The men who had been trained to kill were members of the civilian death squads known as "Interahamwe" which means "those who fight together.
  • Whenever opposition was met, the army would back them up with manpower and weapons.
  • The state provided Hutu organizations of support: politicians, officials, intellectuals, and professional soldiers who deliberately incited and bribed the the killers to continue.

Local Killings
  • Local officials aided in gathering Tutsi victims for the impending slaughter that they were to face. Tutsi men, women, children, and babies were killed in schools by the 1000s.
  • Some were even killed in churches were the clergy would take place in the murders at times.
  • What really instilled fear into the hearts of the Tutsis is that their killers weren't foreign invaders, but people that they knew: neighbors, work-mates, former friends and relatives through marriage.

Interahamwe Get out of Control
Interahamwe militia
Interahamwe militia

  • The Interahamwe were fueled solely by a dedication to a political cause rather then out of hate. All along, they felt that they were on the "right side" so their killings were justified for that sole reason.
  • The killings began to get even more out of control and the Interahamwe began to kill on whim. They were so out of control that the police had to intervene just to calm them down.
  • Local administrators felt that all of these unjustified "disorderly elements" would throw off the genocide program.

Confusion of "Genocide"
  • There had been clear warnings of the "Hutu power" uprising, but the UN had chose to largely ignore said warnings. UNAMIR felt like these were just "mass killings" not a genocide. So the word "genocide" was never really used to describe the terrors that took place.
  • When it was clear that this was in fact a genocide, it was far too late to do anything about it. USA had actually banned it's officials from using the term.
  • Generals advised the Hutus to "clean up their image" by hiding the bodies and keeping them out of camera's sight.

Rwanda: After the Genocide

Fleeing the Massacre
Democratic Republic of Congo
Democratic Republic of Congo

  • Somewhere around 2 million Hutu perpetrators, their families, supporters and anyone else that was simply a Hutu fled across the border. Most of them ended up in the Congo (known as Zaire at the time).
  • Hutu men boasted about their killings in the Zaire refugee camps near the beginning. Later on (within a year) they realized that this was a very risky thing to advertise. By the end of 1995, virtually no one was admitting of their involvement of the genocide. Admittance to the Civil War, and possibly some massacres could be found, but none that took place in the genocide.

"Archaic" Killing Misunderstanding
  • The events that took place in Rwanda were presented as "tribal violence", "ancient ethnic hatreds", "breakdown of existing ceasefire", or a "failed State" in the West.
  • The fact that an extermination had taken place purposely for political reasons to hold and keep power didn't seem like a viable or "real" thing to the US.
  • It was soon understood that the genocide was still technically not over.

Hutu Rebirth
  • Exile in the Congo for the Hutus was seen as tolerable. During this time, Hutu extremists found the time and opportunity to create and set up a new power base, recruit new militias, and make new plans to take over once again.
  • The aid workers couldn't differentiate between those that were involved in the massacre from innocent refugees that took no part in the killings. This ended up angering the Tutsi-led government that wanted to bring the guilty Hutus to trial. Even Congo wanted to rid their camps of the Hutus.
  • In 1996 the refugees were finally forced out of the camps. Many of them returned to their homes, others continued to live in the Congo, which was harsh for the Hutu women and children with nowhere to go.

Rwandan Government Decision
  • Government declared an arrest of all suspected genocidaires (those involved in the genocide). This was aimed at dealing with an impossible situation. This solution was well-intentioned but also had it's downfall.
  • Nearly a million suspects were already in prison awaiting trail and sentencing. Thousands more, which were the most wanted of the Hutus, were known to be hiding among the returning refugees. These individuals still wanted to fight for the Hutu cause.

A Glimpse at Hope
  • Life before the genocide, without mass killings, was sought for once again. The government urged the Rwandans to live in peace again, side by side. At this time, the returning Rwandans from the Congo camps were to be welcomed and even be able to live in the same houses of those that had never left.
  • The President's message to everyone was, "The Rwandan people were able to live together peacefully for six hundred years and there is no reason why they can't live together in peace again. Let me appeal to those who have chosen the murderous and confrontational path, by reminding them that they, too, are Rwandans: abandon your genocidal and destructive ways, join hands with the other Rwandans, and put that energy to better use."

  • The Vice President of Rwanda stated, "People can be changed. Some people can even benefit from being forgiven, from being given another chance." The survivors of the horror were capable of forgiving their killers and even those that had escaped. There was one group who called themselves the "orphaned girls" that was was ready to forgive.
  • Some survivors felt that they had not been given the moral and psychological support that they needed. To them it was described as a reopened wound of some sort. They had gotten past the trauma of it all, but seeing those that were readily welcoming back the past killers with open arms, somehow had let past feelings bubble up.

Tying up Loose Ends
  • In Arusha, Tanzania an International War Crimes tribunal has been set up to try those that have had a hand in the genocide. The former prime minister of Rwanda happened to confess to playing a role in the genocide. He was convicted in 2001, as well as a few others that had come forward. About 50 high ranking Hutu officials still await trail and sentencing.
  • Courts have tried thousands of cased, but still there are around 125,000 that yet await their hearings. There had been a move in works to try the convicted people in their own communities, rather than one that is just hearing of their acts.

After Reports
General Kofi Annan
General Kofi Annan

  • The UN Secretary, General Kofi Annan, created an independent report that criticized the UN and it's leaders for failing to recognize the seriousness of the genocide and how it was in fact a planned slaughter. The UN's failure to act on the knowledge of this was highly criticized in these reports.
  • The USA also saw it's name being confronted. The USA was described as using "deplorable inaction" and a "lack of political commitment."
  • Above all, Kofi Annan described the major governments as a complete "systematic failure."


  1. Cambodian Genocide Group (CGG)
  2. Genocide in Cambodia
  3. Cambodia Genocide
  4. Talking About Genocide - Cambodia
  5. Talking About Genocide - Rwanda
  6. Genocide in Rwanda
  7. Rwanda: The Wake of a Genocide