I hesitated writing this post as unfortunately the content can’t be anything other than sickening. Some of the images and information are graphic so if you are squeamish maybe this is one to skip however I decided to post this because the message is hugely important and I think we should remember the horrific things that happened in Cambodia during the years of 1975-79 when 3 million people died at the hands of the Khmer Rouge. And also to keep in mind that innocent people are being imprisoned, tortured and brutally murdered today in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.
The communist party Khmer Rouge (Khmer – the Cambodian people, Rouge – Red, the colour of communism) was created by its unspeakably evil leader; Pol Pot. They took control of Phnom Penh on 17th April 1975. Tuol Sleng, also known as S-21 was formerly a high school which became a secret prison where thousands of innocent people were tortured.
The cells largely remain in the state they were left in. This includes blood stains.
Between 12,000 and 20,000 people were imprisoned here. There are only twelve confirmed survivors.
This cell belonged to Chum Mey, one of the survivors, who we had the pleasure of meeting during our visit. When the Khmer Rouge fled, Chum was taken with the soldiers and unbelievably was reunited with his wife and child. The following night he went to try to find food but when he returned both mother and child had been murdered. He has nightmares to this day.
This is Choeung Ek also known as ‘The Killing Fields’. Prisoners would be driven in trucks from S-21 and killed here. Walking around this now tranquil garden it’s hard to believe that during the rule of the Khmer Rouge (just under 4 years), one quarter of Cambodia’s population died. Many were murdered right here. It’s hard to imagine how our country would be if one in every four people were murdered.
These are mass graves where prisoners were led, told to kneel and then brutally killed and kicked into their grave.
Pol Pot wanted Cambodia to go back to year zero and recreate a farming society. His idea was to destroy anybody who followed other regimes. This included educated people such as doctors and lawyers (and anybody that wore glasses) as they were “new people”. On 17th April 1975 his armies forced everybody in Phnom Penh out into the country to work on farms, many people died during this journey due to ill health, disability or starvation. He gave the poorer and uneducated people (the “old people”) control over city dwellers. This escalated from working them so hard in the fields that they died to physically torturing them. People who were once ‘normal’, lost their minds to power. Pol Pot became increasingly paranoid during his reign so later began torturing and murdering the people he initially trusted. Nobody was safe.
Bullets were expensive and precious so instead prisoners were brutally murdered using any available object such as a garden hoe and shovel. This palm tree is situated next to a mass grave and the sharp pieces of bark are said to have been used to slit people’s throats.
Cloth and bone work their way up to the surface of the ground as a constant reminder of the lives lost here. It gets worse during rainy season.
The memorial Stupa in the centre of the grounds holds more than 8,000 skulls.
Gunnar Bergstrom of Sweden visited Cambodia in 1978 but was sheltered from what was really happening and was instead given a staged tour of Pol Pot’s illusionary regime. On his return home he labelled the rumours spread by refugees about the mass genocide in Cambodia as a western lie. He later apologised for his mistake. Western countries recognised Pol Pot as a reputable leader for twelve years after the first mass grave was discovered. This fact baffles me. It’s frightening how blind we are at the hands of propaganda. Maybe sometimes it’s more sinister and countries turn a blind eye – but I really hope that’s not the case.
If you want to know more, Luke has just finished reading ‘Survival In The Killing Fields’ and was moved and shocked by how horrifically humans can treat one another for no real reason.