Drawing upon documents from the British National Archives, this paper investigates the British Government formulated its response to the Khmer Rouge dictatorship in Cambodia. This regime was responsible for some of the worst mass killings in the twentieth century; indeed, in April 1978, President Jimmy Carter referred to it as the ‘worst violator of human rights in the world today’. The British have been portrayed, not least by themselves, as championing the international opposition to human rights abuses in Democratic Kampuchea. The fact that Britain was the first country publicly to condemn the violation of human rights by raising the issue at the UNCHR in 1978 cannot be denied. However, a closer examination of the British reaction to the activities of the KR demonstrates the importance of considerations of Realpolitik both internally and externally. At the same time, this article highlights the fact that British responses were also shaped by other contextual factors, especially the important role played by the British public in pressurising their government to act as the situation worsened in Democratic Kampuchea. Ultimately, the Vietnamese invasion brought the importance of Cold War geopolitics back to the fore. It was not until December 1979 that the British formally withdrew recognition of the DK, but by then the KR were out of power.
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