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Introduction Every year, the monsoon rains come to Cambodia. The Mekong floods, and the country’s lowland plains become glassy lakes punctuated by palm trees and stilted wooden homes. The tranquil water washes the earth and furnishes new life.When the floods recede, however, the land reveals that it still bears the scars of the country’s brutal past. Thousands of large pits are scattered across the landscape—­ reminders of bombardment during years of war and innumerable mass graves dug during the Pol Pot years. Scores of stupas and memorials serve as bandages that Cambodians have used to dress their wounds. Beside them, survivors can often be seen praying and leaving offerings for the departed. Like others who have suffered mass human rights abuses, Cambodians remain engaged in a complex process to deal with past atrocities and make sense of their country’s troubled modern history. No part of Cambodia’s past involved greater suffering than the Pol Pot era, when Cambodia descended from being a“sideshow” to the Vietnam War to the neglected site of some of history’s most appalling atrocities. That period began in April 1975, when communist Khmer Rouge guerrillas emerged victorious in a five-­ year civil war against the U.S.-­ backed military regime of General Lon Nol.On April 17,Khmer Rouge fighters streamed into Phnom Penh.Most were young peasants,carrying AK-­47s on their shoulders and dressed in simple black cotton uniforms, traditional checkered headscarves known as krama, and black rubber sandals made from old tires. A beleaguered city, swollen with refugees, greeted their arrival with a sigh of relief and hope that their triumph would bring peace.1 Those hopes faded quickly. Within hours, the young guerrillas began rounding up and executing Lon Nol officials and other suspected enemies of the revolution. They also began evacuating the city, forcing people of all ages onto dusty roads with little knowledge of their destinations.2 Khmer Rouge leaders thus began a radical and ruthless program for social 2 / Hybrid Justice transformation. Their ideological impetus, which one scholar has described as “hyperMaoism,”3 was to create a self-­ sufficient agrarian state immune to unwanted foreign influence. The Khmers Rouges emptied the cities so that “new people”—­ such as urban merchants and bourgeois intellectuals—­ would be dispersed among the“base people” already working in rural cooperatives.4 Monks and other religious leaders were defrocked,currency was abolished,and families were forcibly separated to weaken traditional social bonds and replace them with loyalty to Angkar, the faceless revolutionary “Organization” only later revealed to comprise the top leadership of the Communist Party of Kampuchea (CPK). The Standing Committee of the CPK’s Central Committee, the “highest leading body” of the renamed state of Democratic Kampuchea,5 built a nationwide bureaucratic and security apparatus on foundations of party allegiance and fear. One of its chief aims was to“sweep clean” the state by“smashing” and “screening out” the “enemies” of the revolution and other “no-­ good elements.”6 Angkar was said to have “eyes like a pineapple” on constant vigil, as Khmer Rouge cadres—­ often victims themselves, with guns rather than pencils thrust into their hands as children—­detained,tortured,and killed suspected“enemies,” sometimes in public view to set an example and often for offenses as minor as stealing small portions of food to feed their families.7 Schools and other buildings were converted into makeshift prisons, where many suspects were subjected to primitive torture devices before being dispatched to their deaths, often by bludgeoning to save precious bullets.8 When radical Khmer Rouge economic and social policies failed to deliver a “Super Great Leap Forward,”9 countless others died of hunger or disease. Between April 1975 and January 1979, an estimated 1.5 to 2 million people—­ roughly a quarter of the country’s population—­perished under CPK rule.10 For survivors, Democratic Kampuchea lingers in their memories as“hell on earth,” a “prison without walls”11 in which people of all ages toiled endlessly in poorly managed factories or fields, parroted lifeless revolutionary slogans, and hoped that they and their families would not be the next to be summoned before juvenile cadres to face charges that so often swiftly turned to death. Personal accounts provide windows into survivors’ immense individual suffering as they mourn the loss of loved ones, search for understanding, and grasp for justice and a sense of healing.12 Dealing with atrocities like those committed in Democratic Kampuchea Introduction / 3 raises difficult...


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