Exploring Modern Cambodia–Nina

After discussing my research progress with T.Margaret over the last week, I decided to first explore modern Cambodia in the wake of the Khmer Rouge Movement before jumping straight into the unit on Czechoslovakia. So in this blog post, I will discuss some of my findings on the lasting impact of the Khmer Rouge Movement on aspects of Cambodian society today.

–Impact on Demographics–

I began with Cambodia’s national demographics. The large-scale killing was an integral part of Pol Pot’s nationalist movement, and its consequences persist in modern Cambodia. Cambodia has the highest suicide rates in the world, indicated by a study of the Royal University of Phnom Penh: 27 percent of those surveyed suffer from acute anxiety and almost 17 percent from depression. Cambodia also has the highest percentage of people living as victims of PTSD, ranging from 14 to 33 percent compared to the global average of 0.4 percent (Astrid). Besides psychological traumas, 65% of Cambodians currently are below 30 years old, as denoted by the graph below. I believe this piece of information implies significant challenges that Cambodians face today (Headley). For example, Cambodia has to combat significant “historical amnesia” since the majority of the population are not those who experienced the revolution. Without preservation of direct narratives from survivors, the young Cambodian population may eventually lose this integral part of the nation’s history. I also wonder if the large young population would pressure Cambodia to invest in developing sectors of the economy that generate more job opportunities or to establish an effective education system to accommodate the nation’s youths.

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“Cambodia: Age Breakdown”

–Impact on The Economy–

With these questions in mind, I researched the Cambodian Curious about the current state of Cambodia and its educational system. From an economic standpoint, despite the fact that poverty has been reduced by 60% in Cambodia’s capital due to the emergence of private entrepreneurs, poverty has only declined by 22% in rural areas. Since Cambodia is 85% rural, the vast majority of the Cambodian population is, therefore, struggling with their living conditions (Astrid). Also, according to the data of CIA, Cambodia remains one of the poorest countries in Asia and its economic development is largely thwarted by corruption, lack of human resources, stark income inequality, and poor job prospects. The percentage of the population living in poverty decreased to 13.5% in 2016, of which more than 50% are under 25 years old and live in the rural areas with limited infrastructure and lack productive skills. Fortunately, assistance from donors such as the Asian Development Bank and the World Bank satisfy 20% of the government’s budget.

–Impact on Education–

I also found that educational advancement prior to Pol Pot’s regime had been phenomenal in Cambodia. Under Prince Sihanouk’s leadership, more than 20% of government funding was directed to shaping a “Cambodian education model” based on inspirations from French and Buddhist education systems. However, Pol Pot completely deviated from the past, replacing schools with re-education camps and killing 75% of all teachers plus 96% of tertiary students (Headley). Pol Pot’s extreme measures to impede educational advancements in Cambodia still have noticeable effects today. I came across a 2001 International Labor Organization report that notes “25% of respondents reported secondary school or higher, and about 20% indicated no schooling at all” (Headley). Moreover, the genocide’s impact is evident in the shortage of teachers, facilities, and government funding (Headley).

— Impact on Politics–

As I discovered the influence of government corruption on the national economy in Cambodia, I decided to also look more into today’s Cambodian political sphere. Under the leadership of Hun Sen, the government is currently enforcing a brutal crackdown on dissidents, namely the media and rights organizations that he’s accused of trying to overthrow the government. Hun Sen in fact dissolved the major opposing party—The Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) in 2017. I learned important implications of this act from a BBC article discussing senior CNRP politician Mu Sochua’s opinions and the prospect of democracy in Cambodia. According to the article, Hun Sen was once a member of the Khmer Rouge forces and has been accused of manipulating the judicial system to intimidate his opponents. Despite the fact that freedom of expression and political inclination was included in the Paris Peace Agreement and the Cambodian constitution as well, Hun Sen engaged in unfair elections and has now ruled for 34 years as the Cambodian Prime Minister. With previous dependence on foreign aid from the U.S. and European nations, Hun Sen’s influence was mostly restrained. However, as China emerged as an alternative source for the Cambodian economy, Hun Sen gained a tighter hold over his power (“Cambodia Top“).


“CNRP’s Mass Protests Against The 2013 Election”

Since the CNRP gained ground in the 2013 election, Hun Sen regarded the CNRP as the “only” competitor against his ruling party. In 2017, the president of Cambodia’s Supreme Court—a senior member from Hun Sen’s party—announced his decision to dissolve the CNRP, accusing them of “plotting a revolution” against the Prime Minister. Moreover, Hun Sen ordered the closures of media outlets backed by the United States, including The Cambodian Daily and Voice of America (“Cambodia Top“). Today’s Cambodian politics is built on intimidation and fear, which are inherited features of the government under Pol Pot’s era.

–International Intervention–

Besides exploring remaining issues in today’s Cambodia as a result of the Khmer Rouge Movement, I was also interested in learning about current efforts to heal the country from past trauma. From my research, I learned of the UN’s attempt to bring democracy to Cambodia beginning in the early 1990s with the establishment of the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC), which at the time was the most expensive project formulated by the UN. This article elaborates on the development of UNTAC from the point of view of a UNTAC worker, Sophorn. Sophorn was one of the 20,000 personnel who flocked to Cambodia with the aspiration to set up just national elections, mediate between warring factions, disarm Cambodian forces, and assist thousands of refugees on the Thai border. But UNTAC’s election polls were soon interrupted by attacks from local guerrilla forces, and its humanitarian interventions were threatened by Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party. With the dissolution of Hun Sen’s opposing party, UNTAC’s dream of spurring democracy in Cambodia seems very challenging.


“UNTAC’s Poll Station”


“UNTAC Officials Handing Out Election Materials in 1993”

In addition to the UN’s intervention, the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) appears to be an ongoing organization offering international assistance in investigating the Khmer Rouge’s crimes. The ECCC is a “hybrid” tribunal that has gathered both Cambodia and international judges in conducting trials of the Khmer Rouge’s leaders. Though it began with ambitious hopes to bring justice for the Cambodian citizens surviving the revolution, the tribunals faced challenges of high expenditures, deaths of suspected criminals, and political interference from the Cambodian ruling government (Hume). So far, the court has only achieved three verdicts.

Now having researched the aspects of the economy, educational system, and politics in Modern Cambodia, I gained a deeper understanding of the Khmer Rouge’s legacy. It was also interesting to learn about past and present humanitarian intervention in Cambodia. Through the research process, I have also pondered upon the question regarding the obligations of the international community in intervening Hun Sen’s rule. I believe that for Cambodia to achieve developments within the fields of economy and economy, the international community should invest in intervening unjust actions and restraining oppressive measures of Hun Sen’s regime. I wonder if other organizations such as ECCC and UNTAC would soon emerge and secure rights of Cambodians as CRNP dissolves.



Astrid Zweynert, Astrid. “Legacy of Khmer Rouge Still Traumatizing Many.” Khmer Times, 2018 Khmer Times, 14 Oct. 2015, http://www.khmertimeskh.com/news/16765/legacy-of-khmer-rouge-still-traumatizing-many/. Accessed 22 Feb. 2019.

“Cambodia top court dissolves main opposition CNRP party.” BBC News, 2019 BBC, 11 Nov. 2017, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-42006828. Accessed 22 Feb. 2019.

Headley, Tyler. “The Lingering Effects of the Cambodian Genocide on Education.” The Diplomat, 7 Sept. 2018, thediplomat.com/2018/09/the-lingering-effects-of-the-cambodian-genocide-on-education/. Accessed 22 Feb. 2019.

Hume, Tim, et al. “Scars of the Khmer Rouge: How Cambodia is healing from a genocide.” CNN, 2019 Cable News Network, 16 Apr. 2015, http://www.cnn.com/2015/04/16/asia/cambodia-khmer-rouge-anniversary/index.html. Accessed 22 Feb. 2019.

Maurel, Octavie. “Cambodia: understanding the post Khmer Rouge society.” Translated by Lucie Perrier. Le Journal International Archives, Le Journal International 2008 – 2016, 24 Apr. 2015, http://www.lejournalinternational.fr/Cambodia-understanding-the-post-Khmer-Rouge-society_a3190.html. Accessed 22 Feb. 2019.

Ponniah, Kevin. “In 1993, the UN tried to bring democracy to Cambodia. Is that dream dead?” BBC News, 2019 BBC, 28 July 2018, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-44966916. Accessed 22 Feb. 2019.

“The World Fact Book: Cambodia.” Central Intelligence AgencyCentral Intelligence Agency, http://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/cb.html. Accessed 22 Feb. 2019.


Cambodia: Age Breakdown. Encyclopædia Britannica, http://www.britannica.com/place/Cambodia/Demographic-trends/media/90520/224571. Accessed 22 Feb. 2019.

CNRP’s Mass Protests Against The 2013 Election. BBC News, 2019 BBC, ichef.bbci.co.uk/news/320/cpsprodpb/34F8/production/_102706531_gettyimages-457047111.jpg. Accessed 22 Feb. 2019.

UNTAC Officials Handing Out Election Materials in 1993. BBC News, 2019 BBC, ichef.bbci.co.uk/news/320/cpsprodpb/27B0/production/_102706101_gettyimages-166749730.jpg. Accessed 22 Feb. 2019.

UNTAC’s Poll Station. BBC News, 2019 BBC, ichef.bbci.co.uk/news/976/cpsprodpb/116DF/production/_102719317_gettyimages-1411042.jpg. Accessed 22 Feb. 2019.

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