Tuol Sleng Museum & Choeung Ek Killing Fields
Phnom Penh Attractions
Cambodia's tragic past can be seen less painfully through the perspactive of time and its war museum, if not the most cheerful place in the world, can be extremely instructive in terms of coming to grips with what actually happened during those terrible years.
No less instructive is the burial and execution grounds at Choeng Ek where thousands of exhumed skulls are on display.
Tuol Sleng - S21 - Museum
Tuol Svay Prey High School was originally built as a secondary school in 1960, during the reign of Preah Batnorodom Sihanouk. The Khmer Rouge converted it into a torture and interrogation centre to extract 'confessions' of anti-government sentiment. Many victims were women and children incarcerated along with the 'suspected' father. Documents recovered indicate that over 17,000 persons had been imprisoned there between1975 and 1978, of whom only seven are known to have survived.
The others, once the 'confession' had been extracted under torture, were transported to Choeung Ek for execution. Records show that the highest figure was on 27 May 1978, when 582 persons were sent to their death. The museum was established in 1979 after the Vietnamese invasion, and the Khmer Rouge's meticulous photographic records of their victims are exhibited as tragic testimony to those who suffered and died in their hands.
Tuol Sleng reopened in 1980 as a historical museum memorializing the genocidal crimes of the Khmer Rouge regime. It is open to the public and thousands of Cambodians and foreigners have visited it, bizarrely attracted to the testimony of man’s inhumanity to man.
The life of a prisoner was extremely difficult. Upon their arrival, the inmates were photographed and required to give detailed information of their background extending from their childhood until the date of their capture. Then they were then required to strip to their underwear, after which all of their possessions were confiscated. After being read a list of prison rules, the prisoners were taken to their cells and shackled with chains fixed to the walls or the concrete floors. The prisoners slept directly on the floors without any mats, mosquito nets or blankets and were not allowed to move unless they asked for permission.
- Location: Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, located at the former site of S-21 in Phnom Penh
Choeung Ek Execution Area
15km southwest of the city centre is one of the many sites of Khmer Rouge mass executions. The exhumed skulls of some 8,000 souls, arranged by sex and age, are displayed behind glass panels in the Memorial Stupa, which was erected in 1988. Although some were killed and buried at Tuol Sleng, most victims were driven out to Choeung Ek at night by truck.
Some were made to dig their own graves before being clubbed to death with any heavy instrument available. In addition to those exhumed, another 43 pits have been left undisturbed and the final shocking total can only be guessed. The pleasant orchard setting does little to dispel the horror engendered by this grim sight, as Choeung Ek is just one of thousands of recorded mass grave sites throughout the country, and is by no means, the largest. On May 9th each year a memorial service is conducted at the stupa, in memory of the estimated 1.7 million people who died during the genocide.