01 May Cambodia- The Killing Fields and Tuol Sleng Museum of Genocide
One of the things that I was told to check out while I was in Cambodia were the Killing fields. I knew little about them at the time but another traveler and great friend told me that they weren’t to be missed. So I took a tuktuk to the killing fields which were about nine miles outside of Phnom Penh. A recorded guide is given with admission. At first this seemed a bit odd to me as other places you usually had to pay and it wasn’t automatically given. However there really isn’t much to see and explanation is necessary to grasp the horror that happened just forty years ago. A football field sized area surrounded by farmland, the killing fields contain mass graves for an estimated 20,000 Cambodians. The guide would explain the bordering trees held nooses for hangings. Bullets were too precious to use for executions, instead axes and knives were much more common. Children were murdered simply by smashing them against a tree. This one tree struck me as so somber. I couldn’t imagine all that the tree had seen or been through. It was said that they would play music from the tree to drown out the screams and cries of those being murdered.
After the killing fields it was back to Phnom Penh where my next stop was Tuol Sleng museum of genocide. What was once a high school, during Pol Pots reign from 1975 to 1979 was used for torture and interrogation. It was also known as Security Prison 21 (S-21). Upon entering there is a large sign stating the rules for the prisoners imposed by the Khmer Rouge. Immediately I was shocked and scared which was probably the point.
The Security of Regulation
1. You must answer according to my questions –
Don’t turn them away
2.Dont try to hide the facts by making pretext this and that – You are strictly prohibited to contest me
3. Dont be fool for you are a chap who dare to thwart the revolution
4. You must immediately answer my questions without wasting time to reflect
5. Dont tell me either about your immoralities or the essence of the revolution
6. While getting lashes or electrification you must not cry at all
7. Do nothing, sit still and wait for my orders. If there is no order, keep quiet. When I ask you to do something, you must do it right away without protesting.
8. Dont make pretext about Kampuchea Krom in order to hide your secret or traitor
9. If you don’t follow all the above rules, you shall get many lashes of electric wire
10. If you disobey any pint of my regulations you shall get either ten lashes or five shocks of electric discharge.
The building I entered had barbed wire around it which was electrified to prevent escape. The first floor was used for interrogation rooms, the second floor had holding cells and the third floor was for administration offices. Administration offices?? Torture downstairs and paperwork upstairs, bizarre
The interrogation room had a metal bed frame where the prisoners were directly shackled to. The metal ammunition box was a poor excuse for a toilet. There were pictures of prisoners and random torture devices.
When the prisoners weren’t being tortured they were held in the second floor. Brick walls were put up and made into small cells 3ft wide by 6ft deep. Prisoners were shackled at all times. They were locked in so close to one another yet prohibited to speak or interact. The prisoners had to ask permission to use a bucket in their cell which served as a toilet.
Average incarceration time was two to four months. Those thought to be more important political prisoners had even longer stays. Many died during interrogation and torture. Those who managed to survive their time at S-21 were sent to the killing fields. It is estimated that anywhere from 20,000 to 30,000 came through S-21 and of those 11 people survived. 7 adults and 4 children that were found in a pile of clothing.
It is hard to imagine that people are capable of doing such things to others. The inhumanity of it all. The conditions that existed and not all that long ago. As I stood there staring at the gruesome scenes in the pictures it was chilling to recognise the distinct checkered floor from the photos was exactly the same as the one I was standing on. This really happened right where I was standing.