Report of the Cambodian Genocide Program, 1994-1997

A Report to the United States Department of State Bureau of East Asia and the Pacific 
February 1998

The Cambodian genocide, in which at least 1.7 million people lost their lives, stands as one of the worst human tragedies of the modern era. In Cambodia, as in Nazi Germany, Yugoslavia, and Rwanda, extremist politics conspired with a diabolic disregard for human life to produce repression, misery, and murder on a massive scale. The Cambodian genocide is unique, though, in that for many years it remained largely undocumented, and is only now being investigated for the purposes of bringing its perpetrators to justice.

In December 1994, the Cambodia Genocide Program (CGP) at Yale University received a grant of $499,000 from the Office of Cambodian Genocide Investigations, Bureau of East Asia and the Pacific, U.S. Department of State. This grant expired December 31, 1997. Upon receiving the grant, the CGP immediately began the work of documenting the mass killings in Cambodia during the Democratic Kampuchea (DK) regime headed by Pol Pot between 1975 and 1979. The Cambodian Genocide Program aims 1) to collect and study all extant information about this period in Cambodian history, 2) make this information available to a court or tribunal willing to prosecute Cambodian war criminals, and 3) generate a critical, analytic understanding of genocide which can be marshaled in the prevention of political violence against populations elsewhere in the world. The Cambodian Genocide Program has advanced these goals through a variety of activities which fall into four categories: documentation, preservation, research, and training.

The Cambodian Genocide Program began this work at an auspicious moment in the Cambodian political landscape, as certain obstacles which previously stood in the way of bringing closure to the genocide had been removed. With the end of the Cold War, the diplomatic and economic embargo placed on Cambodia by the U.S. ended, opening up the international flow of trade in ideas and information, as well as goods. The U.N. mission that oversaw democratic elections in Cambodia in 1993 resulted in the political isolation of the Khmer Rouge, which had been, up to that point, still a vocal, and to some, a credible political party. Finally, in 1994 the U.S. Congress adopted the Cambodian Genocide Justice Act, which expresses the American government’s commitment to the pursuit of justice for the victims of the genocide. With the Cambodian government and the international community in harmony for the first time on the subject of the genocide, the Cambodian Genocide Program’s agenda was not only well supported both within and outside Cambodia, but also very timely.

This report provides an overview of the CGP’s objectives, and outlines its accomplishments to date.

Harnessing resources which represent over twenty years of careful scholarship at a critical moment in Cambodian and international politics, the Cambodian Genocide Program is integrating a vast range of source materials to illuminate the social and political environment in which nearly one fifth of all Cambodians died. The detailed picture of the Cambodian genocide which is emerging is not only comprehensive and exhaustively corroborated, but is also being made accessible to a broad range of Cambodians, international scholars, and legal professionals. Continued work by the CGP and its newly independent partner, the Documentation Center of Cambodia (DC-Cam), will not only fill a substantial gap in the available scholarly resources on the Cambodian genocide, but will also serve as a significant prototype for the future study of genocidal activity elsewhere. Not least, it will be of great assistance to the United Nations investigatory commission now in formation, and to any prospective international tribunal. The powerful tools that the CGP is assembling in the interests of documentation and justice, both in Cambodia and around the world, represent an unprecedented attempt to combine scholarship, state-of-the-art technology, and international legal instruments to help bring closure to one of the worst human disasters of the 20th century.

The Cambodian Genocide Program has three broad objectives. First, it seeks to produce a comprehensive account of the Khmer Rouge regime of Democratic Kampuchea (1975-79). Existing information about this period of Cambodian history can be found in a wide range of locations, in a variety of languages, and in a range of physical conditions from useable to completely deteriorated. The CGP has undertaken to locate and identify all sources of information on this period, consolidate and analyze it, and preserve primary source materials which are at risk of being lost to decay, theft, or sabotage. In addition to consolidating existing sources of information on the Cambodian genocide, the CGP has also commissioned newly researched historiographical essays on the Khmer Rouge period. These essays provide detailed analyses of different features of the Cambodian genocide not well documented in existing materials.

The second major aim of the Cambodian Genocide Program is to see that the appropriate resources are available to any tribunal or commission of inquiry which undertakes to bring the leaders of the Cambodian genocide to justice. Toward this end, the CGP is constructing a comprehensive database of information which details the activities of Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge regime, its personnel, chains of command, and corroborating evidence linking specific individuals in the regime to specific crimes against humanity. To supplement the existing archival evidence, the CGP has completed computerized satellite mapping of mass graves in half of the country.

In addition to providing documentary evidence of the Khmer Rouge’s atrocities, the Cambodian Genocide Program has also begun developing the professional capacities required to ensure an effective inquiry. The CGP has conducted two courses in Phnom Penh to train twenty Cambodians in international human rights and criminal law and in the practical aspects of holding a tribunal or truth commission. These professionals are now well qualified to assist a Cambodian or international commission of inquiry into the Cambodian genocide.

The Cambodian Genocide Program’s third objective is to advance a more theoretical understanding of genocide as a political phenomenon. Based on thorough documentation and analysis of the Cambodian genocide, from its earliest manifestations through to the international pursuit of justice, the CGP works to identify characteristics of this particular tragedy which may contribute to the identification, anticipation, and prevention of genocidal activities in other parts of the world. For example, from the research conducted to date, it is clear that the vision for Cambodian society advanced and brutally imposed by the Khmer Rouge is deeply rooted not only in conceptions of racial purity and communist utopianism, but also in conditions of modernity. From the elaborate bureaucracy of Democratic Kampuchea to the modern weaponry the Khmer Rouge deployed against its enemies, Pol Pot’s regime held fast to the idea of a centralized political order that sought to maintain total control over its citizens at any cost. To the extent that these features of the Cambodian genocide resonate with genocidal regimes elsewhere, we can now begin to sketch out the contours of genocidal intent and behavior in a more general way, and thereby hopefully work to avoid similar tragedies. As a natural outgrowth of the Cambodian Genocide Program’s work, Ben Kiernan, Director of the CGP, is writing a book on 20th century genocide, and the CGP has given birth to a new interdisciplinary research program on genocide studies at Yale, the first of its kind in the United States. With a generous grant from the Mellon Foundation, the Genocide Studies Program began in January 1998 as a two-year Sawyer Series of Faculty Seminars on comparative genocide.


The Cambodian Genocide Program is a multidisciplinary, international institution with facilities in the USA, Cambodia, and Australia. It is based at the Yale Center for International and Area Studies (YCIAS). The CGP is sponsored by YCIAS, the Yale Council on Southeast Asia Studies, and the Orville H. Schell, Jr. Center for International Human Rights at Yale Law School. CGP Director Ben Kiernan is Professor of History and author ofThe Pol Pot Regime: Race, Power and Genocide in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge, 1975-1979 (New Haven, Yale University Press, 1996). In 1995-96, Dr. Craig Etcheson served as Program Manager, and in 1997 as Acting Director. Kristine Mooseker is the CGP’s Business Manager. Dr. Helen Jarvis, of the School of Information Systems, Technology and Management (SISTM) at the University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia, is the CGP’s Documentation Consultant. Nereida Cross is database specialist. There are teams of CGP researchers and staff in both New Haven and Sydney. The CGP’s partners include the Documentation Center of Cambodia in Phnom Penh (Youk Chhang, Executive Director), as well as other institutions at Yale such as the Institute for Biospheric Studies and the Center for Earth Observation, and at the University of New South Wales, such as the School of Geomatic Engineering. Prof. Harold H. Koh of Yale Law School, Director of the Schell Center, and Ronald C. Slye, Associate Director in 1995 and 1996, have supervised the Center’s participation in the CGP’s Legal Training Project.


1. Documentation

CGP operations span four continents: North America, Europe, Australia, and Southeast Asia. Documentation operations include compiling the Cambodian Genocide Data Base (CGDB); providing World Wide Web access to our systems; the mass grave mapping project; preservation, cataloguing and analysis of the vast, newly-discovered Khmer Rouge archives; and additional work related to bringing the Program to a successful conclusion in terms of historical and legal evidence.

(i) The Cambodian Genocide Program Website

The principal objective of the Cambodian Genocide Program is the documentation of war crimes, genocide and other crimes against humanity in Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge regime. The centerpiece of this work is the Cambodian Genocide Data Base (CGDB). Using state-of-the-art technology, this data base was mounted on the World Wide Web on January 27, 1997, making its findings available globally ( Other CGP materials, such as a selection of scanned photographs of various aspects of Democratic Kampuchea, an organizational chart of the personnel of Tuol Sleng prison, and translated excerpts from the confidential diary of the Khmer Rouge Foreign Ministry under Ieng Sary, written in 1976-79, were also made available on the web.1

The CGP website was well-received. It was immediately awarded the Internet Site of the Day award by Academe Today, the on-line journal of the Chronicle of Higher Education(Academe Today Daily Report, January 28, 1997), and was named as History Site of the Week of March 16, 1997 by World History Compass. The CGP website was also the subject of a televised report on Cable News Network (CNN) on February 1, 1997, a New York Times Editorial Notebook (April 21, 1997), a San Jose Mercury News editorial (June 27, 1997), and other favorable press commentary, including long articles in the Sydney-Melbourne magazine Good Weekend (March 29, 1997), and Der Speigel (April 1997).

The number of daily recorded ‘visitors’ to the CGP website has always exceeded 500, reaching 4,500 ‘hits’ per day in late January 1997, 3,000 per day in February-March, 800 per day in early April, 13,200 on 21 April (after the New York Times editorial appeared), 2,000-5,000 on April 22-24, and 1,000-1,500 in May, and then, as the Cambodian crisis developed in June 1997, rising to an average of 20,000 ‘hits’ per day.

1 See Ben Kiernan, ‘Ieng Sary’s Role in the Pol Pot Regime,’ Phnom Penh Post, January 24, 1997.

(ii) The Cambodian Genocide Data Base

The Cambodian Genocide Data Base (CGDB) was developed by the CGP in collaboration with a team led by Helen Jarvis, CGP Documentation Consultant and Head of the School of Information, Library and Archive Studies at the University of New South Wales, in Sydney, Australia. It contains a suite of information pertaining to massive violations of human rights in Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge regime between 1975 and 1979. In the January 1997 preliminary release of CGDB, much of the information was focused on “S-21,” also known as the Tuol Sleng Prison, which was the headquarters of the Khmer Rouge secret police.

The Cambodian Genocide Data Base has four components: bibliographic (CBIB), biographic (CBIO), photographic (CIMG), and geographic (CGEO). Along with the publicly accessible Website, the CGP has also released a CD-Rom version of the first three of these databases.2 - The CBIB bibliographic data base currently contains 2,500 records, mostly of primary documents in the Khmer language but also including all books, articles, and documents on the Khmer Rouge period in other languages. The CGP is attempting to create an indexed catalogue of all known primary and secondary documentary resources pertaining to gross violations of human rights during the Khmer Rouge regime. At present the Bibliographic Database contains records on the bulk of the secondary literature on the Khmer Rouge regime, as well as a large sample of the primary documents now known to have survived the years since the Khmer Rouge fell from power, including a full catalogue of all existing records of the Khmer Rouge prison at Krang Ta Chan, in rural Takeo Province.

The CBIB datastructure allows up to 40 fields of cataloguing information on each book, article or document.

- The CBIO biographic database currently contains about 6,000 records on specific individuals, mostly Khmer Rouge military and political leaders, but also on some of their victims. The CGP has collected information on members of Khmer Rouge political and military organizations. Also included is data on victims of the Khmer Rouge, many of whom were not members of any Khmer Rouge organization. We had entered information on some 6,000 persons into the Biographic Database as of December 1996. The largest category includes those Khmer Rouge who wrote “confessions” (usually under torture) in Tuol Sleng Prison.

We gratefully acknowledge the permission of the Cornell University Library’s Southeast Asia Collection to include information from Cornell’s catalogue of Tuol Sleng confessions. Other sources drawn upon for this preliminary release of the CGDB Biographic Database include a Tuol Sleng list of prisoners arrested in 1976 (including many not known to have written confessions), translated transcripts from a series of 500 interviews with Cambodians conducted by Ben Kiernan since 1978, and various of the secondary sources listed in the “sources” field and documentation of the Biographic Database. We have attempted to indicate the source for all information included. There are multiple records on a number of key individuals.

We have attempted to include information on all members of the Khmer Rouge organization who held positions of authority from the district (srok) level upwards, including regional (damban), zone (phumipeak) and center (mocchim) officials, and all officers of the Khmer Rouge armed forces from company (kong anousena thom) level and above. The CGP has information regarding the personal histories of many more Khmer Rouge personnel and victims in our archives. We will continue to add additional information to the CGDB Biographic Database.

There are up to 70 fields and subfields of information on each individual.

- The CIMG photographic database currently contains about 6,000 images of victims who were photographed by the Khmer Rouge upon arrest.

The Cambodian Genocide Program has obtained and scanned more than 10,000 photographic images pertaining to various aspects of gross human rights violations under the Khmer Rouge regime. In the initial release of data from our existing archive, we focussed on the victims of the Tuol Sleng Prison in Phnom Penh, the notorious “S-21” extermination center.

More than 5,000 photographs were taken of prisoners being processed into the facility for interrogation and execution. For the vast majority of these photographs, the identity of the victim is unknown. The photographs are displayed along with a response form for CGDB users to contact us by e-mail to suggest names and other biographical data for unknown victims they may recognize. We encourage users to assist in identifying these victims, but we ask that information be submitted to the CGP only in cases where identification is reasonably certain. The CGP then attempts to correlate the suggested names and/or additional biographic details with other information in our possession, to obtain a positive identification of the victim. Informants may choose to remain anonymous if they wish. Where possible, we plan to electronically link these photographs to CBIO records on those individuals in the photographs.

In future releases of information in the CGDB Photographic Database, the CGP will add many other images relating to massive violations of human rights in Cambodia, including photographs of additional victims, Khmer Rouge personnel, genocide sites such as “killing fields” and prisons, forced labor work brigades, damage to religious buildings and artifacts, and more.

- The CGEO geographic database is a mapping database currently containing approximately 50 maps with data on over 100 ‘genocide sites’ - prisons, mass graves, and memorials - associated with the Khmer Rouge execution system, including over 5,000 mass grave pits.

In 1995, with the support of the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the CGP initiated a project to create detailed maps of the infamous Khmer Rouge “Killing Fields,” those places where large numbers of Cambodians were killed and buried in mass graves. By December 1996, CGP mapping teams had collected data from 37 of Cambodia’s 172 districts, in nine provinces. In every district investigated, mass graves dating from the Khmer Rouge regime were located and examined by CGP researchers. A total of 5,192 mass grave pits were identified at these sites. Based on the patterns of violence and population distributions in the Khmer Rouge regime, the CGP estimated that the total number of mass grave pits in Cambodia may be as high as 20,000.

At most of the sites containing mass graves, CGP researchers have also identified Khmer Rouge-era prison facilities at or near the mass grave site. This fact, along with witness testimony and records of the Khmer Rouge security services obtained by the CGP, led us to conclude that most mass graves hold the remains of victims of centrally-organized violence, rather than of other causes of death such as disease or starvation. In addition to mass grave pits and prison facilities, the CGP also mapped the locations of memorials erected since 1979 in remembrance of Khmer Rouge victims.

The maps in the Geographic Database currently contain information on approximately one hundred and forty different sites in nine provinces, mostly in southern and eastern Cambodia. With the support of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands, the CGP is now constructing a comprehensive inventory of the resting places of the victims of the Khmer Rouge regime. We also plan to add tables of data already collected to the maps in this database, so that users can identify the particular characteristics of each genocide site.

2 See ‘Yale Genocide Records Released as CD-Rom,’Cambodia Daily, January 23, 2998, p. 11.

Forthcoming New Release

In order to make all this new information generally available, we plan for 1998 an extensive new release to supplement the CGDB. Based on current rates of data acquisition, information processing and storage capacity, the bibliographic data base will soon contain 3,500 records, mostly of primary documents in Khmer. The biographic database will eventually contain over 20,000 records on specific individuals, mostly Khmer Rouge military and political leaders, but also on some of their victims. The photographic database will contain up to 1,000 images of primary documents plus about 7,000 images of victims, perpetrators and genocide sites. The geographic database will soon contain the