Pol Pot: The lesser known genocidist of Southeast Asia

Imagine a world where the worst people you know of, ever to have sauntered the Earth, weren’t that bad. Imagine the likes of Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, even Mao Zedong, the unmitigated evils, the people whose minds’ unparalleled amorality was corrupted to such an extent that killing was first nature and life was but a nuisance to be rid of whenever necessary (and it seemed to be ‘necessary’ for the most part of their time at the helm). Imagine if these people were to be, bad ok, but not half as heinous as they’re said to be, compared to a greater terror this world were to hold.

Saloth Sar, better known by his nom de guerre Pol Pot, was the political leader of the Khmer Rouge government, a communist party which ruled over Cambodia from 1975 to 1979. In just 4 years, a quarter of the country’s population of 7.3 million, died of starvation, execution, disease or overwork under his reign.

The Khmer Rouge, attempting to create a classless communist utopia, took a particular aim at intellectuals, non-ethnic Cambodians, civil servants, doctors, the wealthy, the old police force and religious leaders, often outright purging them for belonging in these groups.


Inspired by Mao’s ‘Great Leap Forward’, Pol Pot began by declaring, “This is Year Zero,” and that society was about to be ‘purified.’ Capitalism, Western culture, city life, religion, and all foreign influences were to be extinguished in favour of an extreme form of peasant Communism. All foreigners were expelled, embassies were closed, and Cambodia closed its doors to the outside world. Newspapers and television stations were shut down, health care became non-existent, mail and telephone usage was heavily restricted, every single business was closed down, money became a thing of the past, education was completely halted, religions were banned and even parents had no authority over their childrens’ lives.

All Cambodian cities were evacuated at gunpoint, and millions of Cambodians accustomed to city life were forced into slave labour in rice fields, later known as “killing fields” due to the amount of mass graves that became present in these fields. Every individual had to endure harsh work from 4 a.m. till 10 p.m. on a diet of 180g of rice per day, all under the supervision of young, blood thirsty and trigger-happy Khmer Rouge soldiers.

The Fall of Phnom Penh

Children were dragged away from their families and placed in communals, and later forced into government-arranged marriages, Chan Muslims were forced to eat pork, unsupervised gatherings of more than 2 people was banned, and thousands were forced by torture into falsely confessing that they were plotting against the Khmer Rouge.


This reign of terror finally ended on the 7th of January 1979, when Vietnam captured the country’s capital, 14 days after it launched an invasion of Cambodia due to Khmer Rouge border attacks. Vietnam then installed a puppet government consisting of Khmer Rouge defectors.

Pol Pot never really answered for his crimes, as he died of a heart attack in 1998, while under house arrest from a Khmer Rouge splinter group. As of now, only a handful of Khmer Rouge leaders have been convicted by the United Nations for crimes against humanity, with the top leaders only being found guilty in 2018, 40 years since Pol Pot’s brutal communist regime fell.


This happened half a century ago. And yet, you most probably never heard of it. Evil never croaked, it continues to breed in and around every crevice of the microcosm we call home. In 50 years’ time, another generation will be reading about the evils that are happening now, as you read this article, and they will wonder at how they had never heard about it before. And rest assured, it won’t stop, not because of us, but because this is a world where;

“[if you are] of no use anymore, there is no gain if [you] live, and no loss if [you] die”

– Pol Pot

Written by: Nathan Portelli


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