Khmer Rouge

followers of the Communist Party of Kampuchea in Cambodia

The Khmer Rouge (Khmer: Kmae Krahaam; French for "Red Khmer") was a Stalinist, Maoist militant group in Cambodia. They took over the capital, Phnom Penh, on 17 April 1975. It was led by Pol Pot, who was called Saloth Sar before the take-over. They named the country Democratic Kampuchea. They immediately forced everyone out of the cities, effectively turning the whole country into a giant labor camp. They were defeated by the Vietnamese in January 1979. During the Khmer Rouge Years, many people were killed in a genocide comparable to the Holocaust. The exact number of people killed is unknown. Figures range from about 700,000 to about three million. Most people give figures between 1.4 million and 2.2 million, which would be 20-30% of the population of Cambodia, at the time. The international community continued to recognize the Khmer Rouge as the government of Kampuchea for a decade after they were defeated. Therefore, the Khmer Rouge held a seat in the United Nations until 1989. By 1999, the Khmer Rouge disbanded.

Photos of victims in Tuol Sleng prison
Kang Kek Iew (Kaing Guek Eav or Duch) giving evidence at a court in Cambodia, in 2009.
Skulls of Khmer Rouge victims.

A leading source summarised the Khmer Rouge as follows: "...The Khmer Rouge regime [was] the ultimate twentieth-century paradigm of the totalitarian state. Using sheer violence and terror, a small clique [took] power. [It saw itself] as the messianic mission to bring happiness and prosperity faster than any of its revolutionary model and competitors. It came to control every aspect of social and private life. No one was allowed to nurse, let alone express, any form of opposition".[1]

The same source summarises the effect: "Between 17 April 1975 and 7 January 1979 the death toll was about 25% of a population of some 7.8 million; 33.5% of men were massacred or died unnatural deaths as against 15.7% of the women, and 41.9% of the population of Phnom Penh".[1]


  1. 1.0 1.1 Locard, Henri 2005. State violence in Democratic Kampuchea (1975-1979) and its retribution (1979-2004). European Review of History 12, 1, 121-143. The quotation includes some changes to the published summary. These changes were made to make the quotation readable in Simple English; the sense of the summary has not been changed. [1] Archived 2021-10-31 at the Wayback Machine