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Genocide: Cambodia

Genocide in Cambodia

An Annotated Bibliography Compiled by Jaydi Colmenares Raney

Historical Overview

The Dith Pran Holocaust Awareness Project, Inc, Spreading the Word of the Cambodian Genocide.

On April 17th, 1975 the Khmer Rouge, a communist guerrilla group led by Pol Pot, took power in Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia. They forced all city dwellers into the countryside and to labor camps. During their rule, it is estimated that 2 million Cambodians died by starvation, torture or execution. 2 million Cambodians represented approximately 30% of the Cambodian population during that time.

The Khmer Rouge turned Cambodia to year zero. They banned all institutions, including stores, banks, hospitals, schools, religion, and the family. Everyone was forced to work 12 - 14 hours a day, every day. Children were separated from their parents to work in mobile groups or as soldiers. People were fed one watery bowl of soup with a few grains of rice thrown in. Babies, children, adults and the elderly were killed everywhere. The Khmer Rouge killed people if they didn’t like them, if didn’t work hard enough, if they were educated, if they came from different ethnic groups, or if they showed sympathy when their family members were taken away to be killed. All were killed without reason. Everyone had to pledge total allegiance to Angka, the Khmer Rouge government. It was a campaign based on instilling constant fear and keeping their victims off balance.

After the Vietnamese invaded and liberated the Cambodian people from the Khmer Rouge, 600,000 Cambodians fled to Thai border camps. Ten million landmines were left in the ground, one for every person in Cambodia. The United Nations installed the largest peacekeeping mission in the world in Cambodia in 1991 to ensure free and fair elections after the withdrawal of the Vietnamese troops. Cambodia was turned upside down during the Khmer Rouge years and the country has the daunting task of healing physically, mentally and economically.

Cambodian Genocide Program. A project of the Genocide Studies Program at the Yale Center for International and Area Studies.

The Cambodian genocide of 1975-1979, in which approximately 1.7 million people lost their lives (21% of the country's population), was one of the worst human tragedies of the last century. As in Nazi Germany, and more recently in East Timor, Guatemala, Yugoslavia, and Rwanda, the Khmer Rouge regime headed by Pol Pot combined extremist ideology with ethnic animosity and a diabolical disregard for human life to produce repression, misery, and murder on a massive scale.


Marston, John (1987). An Annotated Bibliography of Cambodia and Cambodian Refugees. Minneapolis, MN: Southeast Asian Refugee Studies Project, Center for Urban and Regional Affairs.

  • Contains citations of numerous accounts of survivors of the Cambodian genocide. Also includes first person accounts.


Becker, Elizabeth (1998). When the War Was Over: Cambodia and the Khmer Rouge Revolution. Public Affairs Press.

  • The author of this book is a former journalist from the Washington Post. She tells of how the genocide in Cambodia was put aside in lieu of the war in Vietnam. Accounts of the labor camps in the fields and the killings of the intelligentsia are also added.

Chandler, David (1999). Brother Number One: A Political Biography of Pol Pot. Westview Press.

  • Based on interviews and other sources, this book traces the life of Pol Pot, the leader of the Khmer Rouge. The author attempts to provide an understanding behind the genocidal policies of the leader through a study of his political career.

Chandler, David P. (1993). The Tragedy of Cambodian History: Politics, War, and Revolution since 1945. Westview Press.

  • This book documents the history of Cambodia from World War Two until 1979. It focuses on the civil war period, as well as the Pol Pot regime and how it came to power. The author parallels Cambodia’s history with the reasons behind the revolution after World War Two.

Criddle, Joan D., & Mam Teeda Butt (1987). To Destroy You Is No Loss: The Odyssey of a Cambodian Family. New York: The Atlantic Monthly Press.

  • This is a memoir of a woman forced by the Khmer Rouge into slave labor. It tells the story of a family who tries to remain together despite the grueling work, starvation, and a fear for their own lives. The title comes from a phrase the Khmer Rouge would say to all they had captured.

De Nike, Howard, J., Quigley, John, Robinson, Kenneth, J. (Eds.) (2000). Genocide in Cambodia: Documents from the Trial of Pol Pot and Leng Sary. Pennsylvania: Penn Press.

  • This book is a collection of primary documents accounting for the trials. The documents are divided into those documents relating to the establishment of the tribunal, those used as evidence, including statements of witnesses, investigative reports of mass grave sites, expert opinions on the social and cultural impact of the actions of Pol Pot and Ieng Sary, and accounts from the foreign press, and finally the record of the trial, beginning with the prosecutor's indictment and ending with the concluding speeches by the attorneys for the defense and prosecution.

Kiernan, Ben (2002). The Pol Pot Regime: Race, Power, and Genocide in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge, 1975-79. Yale University Press.

  • Written by the A. Whitney Griswold professor of History and Director of the Genocide Studies Program at Yale University, as well as the founding director of the Cambodian Genocide Program, also at Yale, this book delves into the ideological aspects of Pol Pot’s regime. It includes accounts of how racist and totalitarian policies led to genocide in Cambodia.

May, Someth (1986). Cambodian Witness: The Autobiography of Someth May. Boston: Faber and Faber.

  • Divided into three sections of Life Before the Khmer Rouge, Under the Khmer Rouge, and The Path to Exile, this book is about a man who witnessed most of his family executed by the Khmer Rouge. This autobiography includes striking detail to the normalcy of torture in everyday life.

Ngor, Haing, & Warner, Roger (1988). Haing Ngor: A Cambodian Odyssey. New York: Macmillan Publishing Co.

  • Told by the lead character of the feature film The Killing Fields, this book is a first person account of the experiences of genocidal rule under the Khmer Rouge. This book also brings into account the possible various motives by other parties involved (the French, the U.S., Prince Sihanouk, the Lon Nol Government, and the Khmer Rouge).

Pran, Dith (1997). Children of Cambodia’s Killing Fields: Memoirs of Survivors. Yale Southeast Asia Studies Monograph Series.

  • This book is a series of memoirs of Cambodians now living in the United States who had experienced life during Pol Pot’s regime as children from 1975-1979. Dith Pran is a photojournalist for the New York Times and founder of the Dith Pran Holocaust Awareness Project.

Taing, Vek Huong (1980). Ordeal in Cambodia: One Family’s Miraculous Survival: A True Story by Bek Hunog Taing as told to Sharon Fisher. San Bernadino, CA: Here’s Life Publishers.

  • This book is about spiritual struggles as faced by a member for the Campus Crusade for Christ at the University of Phnom Penh during the time of the Khmer Rouge uprising. This story is based on Fisher’s interpretation of what was told by Taing.

Ung, Loung (2000). First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers. Harper Collins.

  • This is a personal narrative of a child survivor of Pol Pot’s regime. It tells of a family becoming separated into work camps, to be reunited again after the Vietnamese army came into Cambodia.

Yathay, Pin with John Man (1987). Stay Alive, My Son. New York: The Free Press.

  • Beginning with the forward by the author stating that “fine-sounding ideas of justice and equality can be perverted by fanatics to create brutal oppression and an equality of misery”, this book is the account of an engineer in Phnom Penh who witnesses all of his family members taken by the Khmer Rough.


Arn Chorn (35 min., videocassette. Available from Facing History and Ourselves, 25 Kennard Rd., Brookline, MA 02146).

  • This film was presented at the Third Annual Facing History Conference: The Child in War. Arn Chorn is the protagonist who survived the genocide in Cambodia and immigrated to the United States when he was fourteen. In this film, Chorn recalls life living in the Temple where killings went on every day.

Back to Kampuchea (57 min., color, 16mm or videocassette. Available from First Run Features, 153 Waverly Place, New York, NY 10014).

  • This film focuses on post-Khmer Rouge Cambodia in the country trying to rebuild itself after the genocidal period. It focuses on a Khmer taxi driver who tells of his personal story under the Pol Pot regime.

Cambodia (120 min., color. Available from Social Studies School Service, 10200 Jefferson Blvd., Room 1, P.O. Box 802, Culver City, CA 90232-0802).

  • A set of two documentaries entitled Cambodia: Year Zero and Cambodia: Year One, these films compare and contrast the film footage shot of life during the Khmer Rouge as compared to life after. The footage of life during the Khmer Rouge shows of deserted streets and people dying of starvation, whereas the second video depicts a more vibrant country.

Cambodia: This Shattered Land (60 min., color, videocassette. Available from the Asia Resource Center, P.O. Box 15275, Washington D.C. 20003).

  • The film focuses on Kampuchea during the Pol Pot years. It is an award-winning film by ABC-TV. There are several first-person accounts of the Cambodian genocide.

The Survival of Sontheary Sou (53 min., color, ¾” VHS videotape. Available from Daniel Barnett Company, 260 Lincoln St., Allston, MA 02134 or University and Film Video, University of Minnesota, 1313 Fifth St., S.E., Suite 198, Minneapolis, MN 55414).

  • This is a narrative of a survivor of the Cambodian genocide.

Year Zero: The Silent Death of Cambodia: A Report by John Pilger (52 min., black/white and color. Videocassette. Available from ITC Library Sales, No. 1 Wadsworth Business Centre, 21, Wadsworth Rd., Perivale, England).

  • One of the first documentaries of the Cambodian genocide, this film contains two interviews with two survivors. The two interviewees talk about the Khmer Rouge slave labor, the starvation diets, and the killings of their love ones.


Chigas, George (2000). The Politics of Defining Justice After The Cambodian Genocide. Journal of Genocide Research (Great Britain), 2(2): 245-265. ISSN: 1462-3528, Entry: 52:17841.

  • This article divides the trial for the former Khmer Rouge into four parts. These four parts include: the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia and the U.S. government’s support of the Khmer Rouge, the Vietnamese withdrawing from Cambodia and the U.S. government placing the Khmer Rouge in a coalition government, the Cambodian National Assembly outlawing the Khmer Rouge, and the U.N.’s involvement with the actual trial.

Etcheson, Craig (1990). The Khmer Way of Exile: Lessons From Three Indochinese Wars. Journal of Political Science, 18: 94-123. ISSN: 0587-0577. Entry: 43B:8622.

  • This article traces the three major conflicts in modern day Cambodia where all three times the governments who were not in power were able to gain international support. This article also examines how, because of support from China and Thailand, the Khmer Rouge almost returned to power in 1990, despite the genocide by the government in the 1970’s.

Hinton, Alexander Laban (1998). Why Did You Kill? The Cambodian Genocide and the Dark Side of Face and Honor. Journal of Asian Studies, 57(1): 93-122. ISSN: 0021-9118, Entry: 50B:1454.

  • This article focuses on how the aspect of honor came into play with the actions taken by the Khmer Rouge. The article includes interviews by the author of individuals who participated in the killings in an attempt to understand why such actions took place.

Kiernan, Ben (2001). Myth, Nationalism and Genocide. Journal of Genocide Research (Great Britain), 3(2): 187-206. ISSN: 1462-3528, Entry: 53:9420.

  • This article focuses on the foreign minorities who were targeted and killed by Pol Pot’s regime, more precisely the Vietnamese. The myth of a “historic confrontation” between Cambodia and Vietnam is what the author argues ultimately brought about the demise of the regime.

Lay, Sody (2001). The Cambodian Tragedy: Its Writers and Representations. Amerasia, 27(2): 171-182. ISSN: 0044-7471, Entry: 54:1439.

  • This article compares and reviews three books that are all personal narratives of life from the years 1975-1979. The three books, which are all three different accounts of Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge period, are Bree Lafreniere's Music through the Dark: A Tale of Survival in Cambodia (2000), Chanrithy Him's When Broken Glass Floats: Growing Up under the Khmer Rouge (2000), and Loung Ung's First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers (2001).