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Published: September 11th 2011
Today is September 11th. A day well known in history for the Twin Towers attacks. It seems fitting that I write about another brutal, shameful and degrading humanitarian act which Cambodia is well known for. Something fresh and still very much alive amongst the Cambodians today, and one many still re-live. But sadly, one that is not forgotten amongst Khmers, just unspoken of.
In the past, the Tuol Sleng museum was one of the secondary schools in the Capital city, called Toul Svay Prey High school. The site consists of four large three story buildings with a mixture of small and large rooms. They sit an a U shape and open up on to what is a beautiful green area with lush trees and plants, but was the old play ground. Today, you can see the haunting remnants of a school scattered around the periphery of the greenery in the form of climbing frames and exercise areas. Tragically these innocent implements used to haul ones self up to perform chin ups 'became a tool of torture or to be hung from, and killed. This area is in a very open space and all buildings face on to the
area, easy to observe the killings and torture from a classroom window. Except under PolPot, these classrooms had been evacuated and became cramped prisons or torture chambers. If you were unfortunate to be sent to S21, you would observe the torture from the windows and you would know your time was to come.
After the 17th April 1975, Pol Pot transformed this school in to a barbaric killing machine. It is surrounded by double walls and dense barbed wire which is clearly very visible today. Much has not been touched since those times.
If you look out above the walls, which are not very high, you can clearly see streets, buildings, shops, homes. This school is in the city centre. Unlike Hitler, who hid his extermination of the Jews in concentration camps miles out of town, Pol Pot kept this visible which goes to show the utter arrogance and contempt he had towards others.
In building A, seemingly innocent but eerily looking school building, the ground floor rooms which were used for torture have been almost untouched. Inside each tiny chamber there is a cast iron bed, and implements to cause harm. Above the bed is a picture mounted on
the wall clearly depicting the horrifying tactics implemented by the tormentors and the mutilated corpses of those they found left on the beds when the war came to an end. Fourteen unlucky people were found in this way. Thousands upon thousands passed through these walls and were mercilessly killed. Of these thousands, only seven survived. There are still blood spots on the floor by the beds.
Further on in to the museum, there are picture galleries, some of whom are the Khmer Rouge dressed in their uniform of black, others are the victims they photographed and logged in S21. To me, two words describe the face of every victim; fear and innocence. These people were old, young, babies, teachers, peasants, politicians. It didn't matter who you were, if they thought you were against Pol Pot, they sent you to S21 for certain death. All of this happened a stones throw from the city centre. All of this happened because countries like America, China, France and Vietnam were far too interested in their own gains and I believe are just as much to blame as Pol Pot and his clique. It is sickening. How can humanity behave like this? Through out
the killing fields
a lady mourns for her loss.
history we see genocide and crimes against humanity being carried out and we do little to help those who need it unless we think it will benefit us in someway. By us, I mean governments who are elected in a "democratic" way to represent us. The truly saddest part of all of this is that no one has ever gone to trial for these crimes. America managed to convince Thailand and China to allow the Pol Pot clique to escape to their countries and protect them. Others in the Khmer Rouge have dissolved them self in to government parties. Justice has not been done.
Just as the Hitler supporters integrated back in to society, so have the KR. Today, everyone over 30 was either enslaved or KR (Khmer Rouge).
The Killing Fields
We drove from S21, in the city centre to the outskirts. Must have only been 15 minutes tops (and these tuk tuks go as slow as a push bike) so i reckon three miles. We passed rice fields, swamps, the impoverished and little wealth. Little children ran about at the side of the road naked with protruding bellies completely unaware of the brutality of their
notice the tooth.
History. It is dirty, smelly and unsettling. There is more poverty on this short stretch than I we witnessed at the CRDT projects.
The killing fields site in itself has been turned in to a memorial. It is peaceful, tranquil, quiet and very still. A large beautiful monument, typically Cambodian architecture, boasts much of the area. It dominates the sky and you are immediately drawn to it. Before, going any further, thirsty we buy a drink. Whilst paying I get bit by an ant. It hurts. Seven of us sit and talk quietly and reflect upon the horrors of S21, but the silence is broken by one of the boys pointing out two dogs in the distance going at it hammer and tongs. Only, the dog on top slips and they get stuck. Both dogs start howling and an uncomfortable moment settles upon us. I didn't know this could happen!!!! I'm learning a lot today.
The monument is beautiful, but inside are the remains of skulls, jaw bones, clothes, teeth which have been found at the site. They have been split in to ages and gender. The monument is big and is full. But there are still many thousands
buried underneath at this tranquil setting. While the others investigate the toothless skulls, I watch a 40 year old + Khmer woman sitting under a beautiful tree. She looks sad and is stroking a bracelet. She sits quietly for most of our time there and I imagine the horrors she has faced in her childhood. I wonder who she is here for, who she lost here. Is it a sister, a brother, a mother, a father or all of them? The field its self has been turned in to a beautiful place but underneath these undulating hills are the remains of men, women and children. All of whom were killed unjustly. There is one sunken area with a large broad tree stretching over. There is a sign on the shack which covers the grave "The bodies of women and babies". This tree, quite unremarkable yet another brutal form of torture. This tree is known as "The baby bashing tree". Young babies would be snatched from their mothers and bashed against the tree until death. Their mothers would look upon helpless to protect. The Khmer rouge viewed this as a reasonable device for death - why waste a bullet on a
baby when a tree will do?
Another sunken pitch we find ourselves inspecting closely is one where we find the remains of a human tooth and the shape of a bone gently protruding from the dirty earth. When it floods here, as it does during monsoon season, more human remains are unearthed. It is so painful to know there are hundreds of murdered bodies buried beneath you.
A population of 7 million before, and 2 million or more exterminated.
It is madness that no one has been brought to justice. I can not fathom how or why there is a reluctance to do so. I was told after we had been here that a few years ago, George Bush was asked to fund an investigation in to the acts of the Khmer rouge in order to bring justice to those millions still alive who have to re-live the horrors each day but he would not. Still, in a western world where we demonise Pol Pot and Hitler, we continue to show very little support is taking action. Another example of - "if it doesn't benefit me then what's the point....."
I know I can not change the
world but I can go through it hoping to improve the lives of those I touch and cause as little harm as possible. Nothing is perfect, I am aware of this. I just find human nature deeply shocking.
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