ABSTRACT

Between April 1975 and January 1979, an estimated 1.7 million Cambodians died from starvation, overwork, disease, or execution during the rule of the Communist Party of Kampuchea, known to the outside world as the Khmer Rouge. Although the Vietnamese overthrew the Khmer Rouge central government in early 1979, civil war between these and other contending groups continued until 1991, when the Paris Peace Accords were signed and the United Nations began helping the country prepare for national elections held in 1993. As political and military groups vied for control of the country, thousands of displaced Cambodians – victims and perpetrators alike – slowly resumed daily village life, living side by side in virtual silence. No programme of reconciliation or national dialogue was established and public discussion of what had happened was, and continues to be, actively discouraged by the government. Afraid of being implicated in crimes against humanity and of possible widespread violent retaliations, Cambodia’s leaders told the citizens they should put what happened behind them and ‘bury the past’.1 It has been 35 years since the Khmer Rouge were driven from power and Cambodians scattered throughout the

Susan Needhama, Karen Quintilianib and Robert Lemkinc

world. To make sense of the enormity of the trauma and loss, for the sake of those who died, and to prevent such atrocities from happening again, many Cambodians continue to ask why this tragedy happened and who is responsible; they continue to ask for the truth.