Genocide in Cambodia: Documents from the Trial of Pol Pot and Ieng Sary

Genocide in Cambodia: Documents from the Trial of Pol Pot and Ieng Sary

Genocide in Cambodia: Documents from the Trial of Pol Pot and Ieng Sary

Genocide in Cambodia: Documents from the Trial of Pol Pot and Ieng Sary


The Khmer Rouge held power in Cambodia from 1975 to 1979 and aggressively pursued a policy of radical social reform that resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Cambodians through mass executions and physical privation. In January 1979, the government was overthrown by former Khmer Rouge functionaries, with substantial backing from the army of Vietnam. In August of that year a special court, the People's Revolutionary Tribunal, was constituted to try two of the Khmer Rouge government's most powerful leaders, Pol Pot and Ieng Sary. The charge against them was genocide as it was defined in the United Nation's genocide convention of 1948. At the time, both men were in the Cambodian jungle leading the Khmer Rouge in a struggle to regain power; they were, therefore, tried in absentia.

Genocide in Cambodia assembles documents from this historic trial and contains extensive reports from the People's Revolutionary Tribunal. The book opens with essays that discuss the nature of the primary documents, and places the trial in its historical, legal, and political context. The documents are divided into three parts: those relating to the establishment of the tribunal; those used as evidence, including statements of witnesses, investigative reports of mass grave sites, expert opinions on the social and cultural impact of the actions of Pol Pot and Ieng Sary, and accounts from the foreign press; and finally the record of the trial, beginning with the prosecutor's indictment and ending with the concluding speeches by the attorneys for the defense and prosecution.

The trial of Pol Pot and Ieng Sary was the world's first genocide trial based on United Nations's policy as well as the first trial of a head of government on a human rights-related charge. This documentary record is significant for the history of Cambodia, and it will be of the highest importance as well to the international legal and human rights communities.


The trial of Pol Pot and Ieng Sary was held in August 1979 in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. In the government that ruled Cambodia from 1975 to early 1979, Pol Pot was prime minister, and Ieng Sary was deputy prime minister for foreign affairs. This government was generally referred to as the Khmer Rouge, “Khmer” for the majority ethnic group in Cambodia, and “Rouge,” the French word for “red,” because of the government’s leftist character. The Khmer Rouge was widely accused of atrocities against the population of Cambodia, in connection with its pursuit of a policy of radical communalization. The Khmer Rouge was replaced in January 1979 by a new government composed largely of Khmer Rouge functionaries who broke away from the Khmer Rouge and overthrew it, with substantial military backing from the army of Vietnam.

The trial of Pol Pot and Ieng Sary was conducted under the auspices of this new government. A number of foreign lawyers, of whom I was one, were invited to participate in the trial in various capacities. At the time of the trial, Phnom Penh was a ghost town, having been emptied by the Khmer Rouge when they captured the city in 1975. Attractive urban villas still stood empty, many with rusting Renaults parked in the driveways where their owners had abandoned them during the 1975 evacuation. There was no industry in the city, and shops were closed. My initial reaction upon arriving in Phnom Penh was to wonder why anyone was bothering to hold a criminal trial, when so much needed to be done to restore normal life. Around the auditorium where the trial was held, an overflow audience milled, anxious to talk with anyone who would listen about what they and their families had suffered under the Khmer Rouge. Security in Phnom Penh was uncertain, as the Khmer Rouge still operated in many parts of the country. Along with other foreign participants, I traveled each day to Chakdomuk Hall, the venue of the trial, in a military-style convoy, with armed vehicles at the head and rear.

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