In 1975, the Khmer Rouge came to power in Cambodia. In 1979, after killing around two million Cambodians, the Khmer Rouge were finally taken out of power. In 2018, after two surviving members were put on trial, the killings have finally been ruled a genocide.
According to the BBC, a tribunal found Noun Chea, the 92-year old former Khmer Rouge deputy, and Khieu Samphan, the 87-year old former head of state, guilty of genocide among numerous other significant crimes, including enslavement and torture. They were already serving life sentences prior.
They served under Pol Pot, leader of the Khmer Rouge from 1963 and 1997, whose tactics earned him the regard of being one of the most murderous and insidious leaders of the modern era. The Khmer Rouge kidnapped, tortured and executed its political opposition, drove its citizens to toil working in the fields, and tortured those who weren’t compliant, according to History.com.
After the fall of the Khmer Rouge, Pol Pot fled from capture until 1997. Only a year after his capture, he died in house arrest at the age of 72, never truly receiving the punishment that the victims of his reign sought. In the years surrounding, many other Khmer Rouge members were captured and punished.
This 2018 tribunal was significant in having finally named the killings a genocide for the first time, which has been a point of some contention as it is not entirely clear to some whether the Khmer Rouge targeted specific identities. The role of Vietnamese in Cambodia, and their violent removal, played a significant role in the ruling. “During the trial, a 1978 speech from Pol Pot was cited in which he said that there was ‘not one seed’ of Vietnamese to be found in Cambodia,” states the BBC report. “And historians say that indeed a community of a few hundred thousand was reduced to zero by deportations or killings.”
While the rulings hold some significance and can provide some closure for the country and those left behind by the brutality, Cambodians will perhaps never truly find reparations. “If we can get more, it would be better,” stated Lay Dong, a Khmer survivor, to DW. “But right now Cambodians are not in the situation to claim more justice.”