40 Years After the Fall of the Khmer Rouge, Cambodia Still Grapples With Pol Pot’s Brutal Legacy

On the eve of the Fall of Phnom Penh to the Khmer Rouge on April 16, 1975 as night fell, thousands of people streamed towards the center of Phnom Penh on Monivong Boulevard. Roland Neveu—LightRocket/Getty Images

Forty years ago, Pol Pot’s brutal regime in Cambodia fell from power — but it left behind lasting scars. The Khmer Rouge, a hardline-communist command, terrorized the Southeast Asian country from 1975 to 1979, killing between 1.7 million to 3 million people. In the regime’s pursuit of a classless agrarian society, many were sent to labor camps, prisons and killing fields across the nation, where they died of torture, disease and starvation.

It wasn’t until Jan. 7, 1979, that a Vietnam-backed invasion forced the Khmer Rouge to retreat into the jungle.

Four decades on, Cambodia, a developing nation of about 16 million people, is still grappling with its past — not just the tragedy beyond conception that was official Khmer Rouge rule, but also the civil war that followed and continued through the early 1990s. In November, a U.N. tribunal delivered a historic ruling, convicting two of the regime’s last surviving leaders of genocide. That significant verdict underscored the lingering legacy of the genocidal regime on Cambodian society today.

On the 40th anniversary of the fall of the Khmer Rouge, here’s what to know about one of the worst mass killings of the 20th century and how it still shapes modern Cambodia.

By CASEY QUACKENBUSH January 7, 2019

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