One of the major tourist attractions in Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Pehn, is the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum.
This former high school was converted into a Khmer Rouge prison in 1975 and was used for the holding, interrogation and extermination of more than 17,000 inmates in the 4 years that it was open.
Inmates were arrested and incarcerated for many reasons (most fictitious) but mainly for being part of (or related to someone from) the previous Lon Nol regime or who didn’t agree with the new Angkor regime.
The school’s classrooms were divided and adapted with bricks, iron bars and barbed wire to make a variety of different cells from small, solitary confinement cells to large torture chambers and mass cells. Whichever the cell, the inmates were forced to sleep on bare floors or boards, shackled together and were forbidden to speak. As many as 1500 were held here at any one time and they were kept alive on four small spoonfuls of rice porridge and watery soup of leaves twice a day.
Skin disease was rife and inmates endured severe beatings as well as torture as punishment to disobedience. They were even made to eat faeces and drink their own urine.
The rules listed outside the prison remain today (bad grammar is due to the translation from Khmer) –
- You must answer accordingly to my question. Don’t turn them away.
- Don’t try to hide the facts by making pretexts this and that, you are strictly prohibited to contest me.
- Don’t be a fool for you are a chap who dare to thwart the revolution.
- You must immediately answer my questions without wasting time to reflect.
- Don’t tell me either about your immoralities or the essence of the revolution.
- While getting lashes or electrification you must not cry at all.
- 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.
- Don’t make pretext about Kampuchea Krom in order to hide your secret or traitor.
- If you don’t follow all the above rules, you shall get many many lashes of electric wire.
- If you disobey any point of my regulations you shall get either ten lashes or five shocks of electric discharge
Interrogation and forced confessions were initiated with torture. Methods of torture included electric shock, suffocation, pulling out fingernails, branding, water boarding and even rape.
Extermination was induced by crude techniques such as being bludgeoned with blunt items such as machetes, iron rods and pick axes, any items that could avoid using expensive ammunition. Bodies were then buried in mass graves, many at the famous Choeung Ek extermination centre, 15 kilometres from Phnom Pehn.
Your experience at the museum will be a chilling one – though the captors were cruel they were well organised and documented inmates by photograph. The pictures cover the walls of some of the cells and create an imposing atmosphere as you wander the school halls past weapons of torture and the skulls of inmates.