3-8-20 - in Cambodia, this number combination stands for the unparalleled genocide the Khmer Rouge carried out against its own people. Their rule lasted exactly 1,355 days, until the invasion of the Vietnamese army on January 7, 1979.
Though no one knows exactly how many people lost their lives during the Khmer Rouge's reign of terror, general estimates place the number at a minumum of 1.7 million people - one fourth of the entire population. Survivors speak of the darkest chapter in the Southeast Asian country's history.
Phnom Penh's former jail S-21 is now a genocide museum. While the Khmer Rouge was in power, people were systematically tortured and killed in the prison. It is estimated that a total of 20,000 people of all ages were killed here and in the so-called "killing fields" right outside the city limits of the Cambodian capital.
These portraits are hanging on the walls of S-21. They are the faces of the prisoners. Each new inmate had his or her picture taken upon arrival. Their eyes reveal their fear and desperation. Only a handful of prisoners there survived the torment.
The artist Vann Nath was one of the few to make it out of the S-21 alive. This is one of his pictures. It shows a Khmer Rouge soldier ready to smash a baby against a tree in front of its parents. Their crime: to be from the educated classes. Intellectuals were a thorn in the Khmer Rouge's side as they were seen as "subversive elements."
After the Khmer Rouge toppled the US-backed governemnt in 1975, it tried to turn the country into a Communist agrarian society. Under the leadership of Pol Pot, people living in urban areas were forced to move to the country. Hundreds of thousands of people died from back-breaking work, hunger, and disease.
Cambodian school children read about the crimes committed by the Khmer Rouge in the genocide museum. After the Khmer Rouge was forced out at the beginning of 1979, its leader Pol Pot and his followers fled to a place near the Thai border, where he lived undisturbed until his death in 1998.
The Khmer Rouge's crimes against humanity went unpunished for decades. In the year 2003, the UN and the Cambodian government decided to create a tribunal. But it took years for the first trial to start. In February 2009, Kaing Guek Eav, the Khmer's chief jailer also known as "Duch," was brought before a court of law for the first time.
In the year 2010, Cambodia's United Nations-backed Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia sentenced Duch to 30 years in prison. Two years later, his jail term was increased to life. Since 2011, other high-ranking Khmer Rough officials have been brought before the tribunal, among them Pol Pot's former Number 2, Nuon Chea. The tribunal has come under fire for corruption allegations.
Vietnamese soldiers put an end to the brutal rule of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia 34 years ago.