Chilling Photographs of the Cambodian Genocide and Pol Pot’s Killing Fields

Skulls lie in the killing fields of Choeung Ek. 1981. Roland Neveu/LightRocket via Getty Images

The Cambodian genocide was perpetrated by the Khmer Rouge regime, the Communist Party of Kampuchea, led by Pol Pot from 1975-1979. The Khmer Rouge wanted to transform Cambodia into a socialist agrarian republic based on the policies of Maoism.

In order to bring these goals to fruition, the Khmer Rouge forced Cambodians from cities all over the country to relocate to labor camps and farms in the countryside. The mass executions, forced labor physical abuse, starvation, and spread of disease that ensued resulted in the deaths of an estimated 3 million people, about 25 percent of Cambodia’s total population.

Those who were seen as enemies of the Khmer Rouge were taken to the Killing Fields, where they were executed, often with pickaxes in order to save bullets, and buried in mass graves.

Many people were also take to Tuol Sleng Prison (Tuol Sleng translates to ‘Hill of the Poisonous Trees’), a former high school that was converted into a Security Prison. Tuol Sleng was one of 150 death camps established by the Khmer Rouge. It is estimated that 20,000 people were imprisoned at Tuol Sleng, where they were tortured for information, and then killed. The Documentation Center of Cambodia estimates that only about 180 prisoners survived imprisonment.

The Khmer Rouge targeted anyone suspected of having connections to the former Cambodian government or other foreign governments, professionals, intelligentsia, journalists, doctors, lawyers, Buddhist monks, and ethnic minorities such as Vietnamese, Thai, Chinese, Cham Muslims, and Cambodian Christians. The Khmer Rouge banned more than 20 minority groups, constituting 15% of the population, and banned the use of minority languages.

The Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia ended the genocide by defeating the Khmer Rouge in 1979.

Khmer Rouge soldiers drive through the capital. Phnom Penh. 1975. SJOBERG: AFP: Getty Images
A young girl and her baby, inside of Tuol Sleng Prison. Phnom Penh. Wikimedia Commons
A distraught woman cries over the body of her husband, killed by Khmer Rouge soldiers. Phnom Penh. 1975. Roland Neveu/LightRocket via Getty Images
A child soldier stands over a blindfolded soldier. Though the atrocities of the killing fields were unjustifiably horrible, this photo shows a more complex version of the story. Here, the child soldier is fighting for the Khmer Republic – and his prisoner is a member of the Khmer Rouge. Angkor Chey, Cambodia. 1973. Bettmann/Getty Images
A Thai border patrolman finds a dead child that was killed by Khmer Rouge soldiers. Thailand. 1977. Bettmann/Getty Images
A child soldier with a human skull resting on the tip of his rifle. Dei Kraham, Cambodia. 1973. Bettmann: Getty Images
A crowd gathers around a civilian killed by the Khmer Rouge. Phnom Penh. 1975. Francoise De Mulder:Roger Viollet: Getty Images
A dead man’s body lies on the ground at Tuol Sleng Prison, following his murder by the Khmer Rouge. Phnom Penh. Wikimedia Commons
A family of starving refugees struggle to make their way across the border to Thailand. Phnom Penh. 1979. Roland Neveu: Light Rocket via Getty Images
A field of people massacred by the Khmer Rouge. My Duc, Vietnam. 1978. Keystone:Hulton Archive:Getty Images
A gravely injured man, with his shirt ripped open, lies on the cold ground of Tuol Sleng Prison. Phnom Penh. Wikimedia Commons
A group of women huddle together. 1975. Romano Cagnoni: Hulton Archive:Getty Images
A line of a thousand Cambodian refugees makes it into Thailand. Klong Kwang, Thailand. 1979. Bettmann: Getty Images
A soldier stands by a mass grave. Oudong, Cambodia. 1981. Roland Neveu :Light Rocket via Getty Images
A terrified prisoner is photographed inside the Tuol Sleng prison. Of the nearly 20,000 people locked in Tuol Sleng, only 180 survived. Phnom Penh. Wikimedia Commons
A woman rides a bicycle by a stack of destroyed cars, cast aside by the Khmer Rouge as of symbol of the bourgeoisie. Phnom Penh. 1979. John Bryson:The LIFE Images Collection:Getty Images
An employee at the French Embassy offers a cigarette to a Khmer Rouge soldier. The gate to the embassy, by this time, had been barricaded off with barbed wire. Phnom Penh. 1975. Express:Archive Photos:Getty Images
As the Khmer Rouge moves into the capital, thousands of people abandon their country in fear of what’s to come. Phnom Penh. 1975. Roland Neveu: Light Rocket via Getty Images
At the twilight of the Cambodian Civil War, the people of Phnom Penh start to evacuate, as the burning gasoline depot behind them signals the arrival of the Khmer Rouge. Phnom Penh. 1975. CLAUDE JUVENAL:AFP:Getty Images
Cambodian soldiers who fought against the Khmer Rouge in the Olympic Stadium, the place the Khmer Rouge used for their executions. Phnom Penh. 1975. Roland Neveu:Light Rocket via Getty Images
Cambodians climb over a fence, trying to escape to the French Embassy. Phnom Penh. 1975. SJOBERG:AFP:Getty Images
Cambodians try to help an injured civilian. Phnom Penh. 1975. Roland Neveu: Light Rocket via Getty Images
Child soldiers working for the Khmer Rouge show off their machine guns. Galaw, Cambodia. Circa 1979. Bettmann: Getty Images
Injured people hide out in the hospital, before the capital was under complete Khmer Rouge control. Phnom Penh. 1975. Roland Neveu: Light Rocket via Getty Images