Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum (S-21 Prison)

Trip Start Mar 03, 2010
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Trip End May 02, 2010


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Flag of Cambodia  ,
Friday, April 2, 2010

Although not widley acknowledged, the Vietnam war also spread into Laos and Cambodia.  In very simple terms, the Prince of Cambodia was overthrown as ruler by a US backed military coup.  This in turn led him to back the rebels of the Khmer Rouge, a communist army determined to take their country back from what they felt were imperialist invaders.

In 1975, the Khmer Rouge took control of Phnom Penh.  In the weeks that followed, the entire city was evacuated, as the KR wanted Cambodia to go back to a medieval agrarian utopia.  To do that, they had to impose it on people who didn't want it.  So the Khmer Rouge tortured and killed them.

Tuol Sleng was a school in a quiet part of Phnom Penh.  It was turned into Cambodia's most notorious Prison.  More than 17,000 people were tortured here before being killed at the Killing Fields; only 8 prisoners made it out alive.  Most of the victims were educated urban workers, such as Doctors, Nurses, Teachers, Artists and Writers.  Basically anyone who didn't fit into the agrarian scheme - and even some who did.  The Khmer Rouge discarded Western medicine, and destroyed temples, libraries, and anything considered Western. Over a million Cambodians, out of a total population of 8 million, died from executions, overwork, starvation and disease.

I don't need to describe the conditions at this place, but I will.  There were a range of different types of cells, depending on who you were.  Some were in ex-classrooms, in large groups shackled to the walls.  Others were in tiny brick "rooms", just big enough to stand in.  Torture was the norm. 
Prisoners were routinely beaten and tortured with electric shocks, hot metal instruments, hanging; cut with knives or suffocated with plastic bags; pulling out fingernails while pouring alcohol on the wounds, holding prisoners’ heads under water, and water boarding.

Their crime was simply that they did not agree with the Khmer Rouge...or they were educated.....or just fell foul of Khmer Rouge cadres. 

Today, it is a museum, designed to show the world the horrific history of the place.  Some rooms have the bed frames in where people died, others show the torture instruments.  Some of the "mug shots" of the Prisoners are shown - Men, Women and Children alike.  Other photos show prisoners dying.

It's a tough place to visit - much like Phnom Penh itself.  But it is essential.  To understand Cambodia, you need to understand what has happened in the last 35 years.  As of writing this, the man in charge of the Prison, a guy called Duch, has just (July 2010) been found guilty of genocide.  This is something that can't be forgotten.
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