The Victims of Communism Foundation's Blog

FILM SCREENING: THE KILLING FIELDS

FILM SCREENING: THE KILLING FIELDS


ABOUT THE FILM

Released in 1984, The Killing Fields won twenty-seven awards including three Oscars, eight BAFTA’s, and three Academy Awards.

The year is 1973. New York Times reporter Sydney Schanberg is on assignment covering the Cambodian Civil War, with the help of local interpreter Dith Pran and American photojournalist Al Rockoff. When the US Army pulls out amid escalating violence, Schanberg makes exit arrangements for Pran and his family. Pran, however, tells Schanberg he intends to stay in Cambodia to help cover the unfolding story–a decision he may regret as the Khmer Rouge rebels move in.

 

ABOUT THE COMMUNIST PARTY OF KAMPUCHEA

The Communist Party of Kampuchea—known as the Khmer Rouge—emerged as an offshoot of Ho Chi Minh’s Indochinese Communist Party. With its origins in the anticolonial struggle against the French, the communist movement in Cambodia gathered strength amid the chaos of the Indochinese War of the 1950s and the tumult of Cambodia’s internal politics. During the 1960s, the communist movement in Cambodia was taken over by a small cadre of intellectuals who had learned Marxist theory as students in Paris. The Khmer Rouge waged a successful insurgency against the central government in the Cambodian Civil War of 1967-1975 and seized the capital city of Phnom Penh in April 1975.

In 1977, clashes broke out between Cambodia and Vietnam, igniting a war. By 1978 Vietnamese troops invaded Cambodia, capturing Phnom Penh and making the Khmer Rouge leaders flee to Thailand. The Cambodian resistance movement took over the country’s UN General Assembly seat, marking the formal end of the Khmer Rouge regime. Although powerless, the party continued to exist until 1999.

 

THE KILLING FIELDS

The “Killing Fields” are the sites of mass graves around Cambodia where millions of people were executed and buried by the Khmer Rouge. To date, over 20,000 mass grave sites have been discovered. The Documentation Center of Cambodia calculates that these mass graves contain over 1,386,734 bodies.

The Khmer Rouge’s legacy extends to the current day. Many established figures in Cambodia’s contemporary local and national politics held positions within the Khmer Rouge regime: the current Prime Minister, Hun Sen, was himself a Khmer Rouge battalion commander, and is actively seeking to limit the scope of the tribunals that are currently investigating the regime’s crimes.

 

THE TRIALS

In 1997, forty years after the Khmer Rouge’s crimes, the Cambodian Prime Ministers wrote to the United Nations requesting a trial against the Party’s senior leaders for war crimes, international crimes, human rights violations, and genocide. The main purpose of the request was to provide justice to the Khmer Rouge’s victims. The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia were established in 2005, becoming fully operational in 2007.

Among those tried by the ECCC:

Kaing Guek Eav, head of Internal Security under the Khmer Rouge and manager of the Cambodian prison camps, was found guilty of crimes against humanity and sentenced to life in prison in 2012, having exhausted all his appeals.

Nuon Chea, Pol Pot’s right hand man, received a life sentence for crimes against humanity in 2014 and still awaits a separate trial for charges of genocide. His lawyer has announced the intent to appeal his conviction.

Khieu Samphan, former Head of State and Pol Pot’s successor, received a life sentence for crimes against humanity on August 2014. His lawyer has announced the intent to appeal his conviction.

Ieng Sary, former Deputy Prime minister of Foreign Affairs, and his wife Ieng Thirith were accused of planning, ordering and overseeing the crimes of the Khmer Rouge. Sary died during his trial, and his wife was declared mentally unfit to stand trial.