Enemies of the People: Cambodia's Killing Fields

Friday, November 11, 2011

  • Skulls of victims of the Khmer Rouge at a Cambodia memorial

    Skulls of victims of the Khmer Rouge at a Cambodia memorial

Written by Janet Errygers

Enemies of the People, a documentary by Thet Sambath, is an attempt to chronicle a mass genocide in Cambodia that has been denied and subdued since its occurrence. Prior to the film, I knew only a few details about the situation that had been provided to me by the documentary's website. Perhaps this is a testament to how information pertaining to the event has been kept quiet over the years, but the filmmaker (and I) believe that these details should be unearthed.

In 1975, the Khmer Rouge – Cambodian Communists – came to power in Cambodia. Over the course of four years as head of state, party leader Pol Pot and Prime Minister Nuon Chea indirectly caused the deaths of an estimated 2 million people through famine, disease and murder.

Pol Pot and Nuon Chea – Brother Number One and Brother Number Two, respectively - aimed to create a completely communist, self-sustaining, agrarian state. In doing so, they “purged” the country of capitalists, intellectuals and any supposed opposer of their doctrine. Cities were evacuated and families split apart, with survivors being sent to rural communes to become farmers. Because of Pol Pot's desire to make Cambodia a completely self-suffient state free from outside interference, many people died of treatable diseases and starvation.

In Enemies of the People, Sambath, one of Cambodia's top investigative journalist, has successfully captured testimonies from witnesses, farmers who assisted in the “purge”, and Nuon Chea himself. Convincing people to give their confessions on tape was no easy task, and it took three years of befriending and frequent visits to get Brother Number Two to feel comfortable enough to offer his insight. He says that his and Pol Pot's intentions had always been for the greater good, but eventually things spiralled out of control.

One of the farmers that Sambeth interviewed expressed that he and those involved in perpetrating the genocide were aging, and without their admissions the truth behind the story would die with them.

The gravity of the situation in Cambodia from 1975-1979 was as serious and as real as any other genocide, but until recently I knew nothing about it. Seeing this documentary confirmed once again how lucky I am to have been born in Canada and, even more so, how fortunate I am to be able to study at the University of Guelph. Much of the world is a cruel and unfair place, and often I forget this fact when worrying about relative trivialities such as what to make for dinner.

I encourage everyone to do some research into the oppression, exploitation and marginalization that is happening across the world today. Regardless of whether or not you feel you are able to help, at the very least enlightening yourself will make you thankful for all you have.

This documentary is part of the Docurama series that is hosted by the CSA and McLaughlin Library. Many films are shown throughout the semester, and I'd definitely recommend going if you like to expand your mind!
For a full list of Docurama titles for this semester, visit:

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