Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Cambodia 3 - Khmer Rouge (Jamie)

The first thing to say about this post is there are some details that I am going to go into which will not be pleasant reading. Whilst in Cambodia we visited two sites which were origionally set up by the Khmer Rouge. This was not a fun day but we felt it was important to help us understand the country and it's people, the following happened in the 70s (shockingly recent given that most people in the west have never heard of it). These are details of a mass genocide, please feel free to read on but we will not be offended if this is not for you...

The Khmer Rouge were a political party who formed an army led by a man named Pol Pot. Unfortunately the comparisons with Hitler do not end here. Pol Pot led a "revolution" in the country which other threw the King and took control. The Khmer Rouge were in essence a communist party, but they took the communist ideals to shocking extremes- they arrested and killed anyone who was foreign, educated, wore glasses, religious, wanted to keep their belongings etc.

The first site we visited was called Toul Sleng. It was originally a school but the Khmer Rouge turned it into a prison/torture house. You could walk around a lot of this site, this picture is or a torture bed still set up. In the background is a picture of what the room looked like when it was first discovered. There were many of these rooms.

This is an overview of the site. You get the impression that before it was a prison Toul Sleng was quite a nice place to go to School.
School equipment turned in to torture equipment. The Khmer Rouge use to hang people upside down with their hands tied behind their backs and dip them into the tanks of "water" until they confessed to being a spy, passed out or died. Originally this was a swing. There were many equally horrific ways that they used to torture prisoners which would make a post by itself.

A prison cell, smaller than an average toilet cubical. This one was relatively good as it had part of a window.

The Khmer Rouge took pictures of every prisoner that came through Toul Sleng. They are all displayed around the site. Countless pictures of men, women and children. Sometimes they forgot to take the picture before the prisoners were tortured or killed so there are some pictures taken after. We didn't think it was appropriate to take pictures of those.

You know we said it was shockingly recent that all this happened? Up to 1979... well this man here is still on trial today for the crimes committed.
 The main man in charge of Toul Sleng was nick named "Dutch". He has become a Christian and is the only one of the people on trial to fully admit to all crimes he has been accused of. He also stated that he wanted to take full responsibility for those working for him at Toul Sleng as they were following his orders. Not sure what to make of that, but interesting non the less...

Anyway, afterwards we went for lunch at a cafe which employs people who used to be in the sex-trade to be waitresses, waiters and they make small gifts for people to buy too. Most exciting thing about this was that the wonderful people there made Mince Pies!

 After lunch we headed to the "Killing Fields". This is a short trip to the outskirts of Phnom Penh to what was originally a field with a few trees. This is where the Khmer Rouge took those who had survived the torture and confessed to being spies or whatever to be killed. Bullets cost money, so they had them blindfolded with hands still tied behind their backs, then they knelt down on the edge of a shallow mass grave and hit them on the back of the head with something sharp. They would fall dead straight into the grave. I am not sure exactly how shallow these were but when you walk around there are still bones and items of clothing coming to the surface. This happens apparently especially when it rains.

They have dug up most of the shallow graves and displayed the remains in a beautiful memorial tower. This serves two purposes. One is so that we can't forget what happened and the other is that Khmeh people believe that if you don't give someone a proper memorial/burial/cremation their souls are destined to walk the earth forever.

You can see in the above picture the dips in the ground where graves have been dug up. This area is literally covered in these dips.

Here you see one of the sections inside the tower. It has a different section for skulls, bones, clothes etc

This day was not a fun one, but an important one. This was so recent and is still so raw for some of the people of Cambodia. Cambodia has it's problems but when you learn the history of the Khmer Rouge you start to think that it has done well to get where it is today. Highly recommended that you visit these sites if you visit. Both sites are beautifully done with great respect.

I now recommend you eat a restorative mince pie to make you feel a bit better after reading this


  1. Thanks for that Jamie - your words and the pictures tell a story that needs to be told - love - dad

  2. This all happened shortly before you were born - yet we never told you about it. Perhaps we should have done. Thinking back, I understand better now how my parents never told me what it was like to live through WWII, and the horrors perpetrated during that. Your sister has visited Auschwitz and now you have visited the Khmer Killing Fields. Let neither of you ever forget how evil people can be when they believe they are immune to the consequences of their actions. - love - Mum

  3. When we visited the area it was one of the hardest sites but also one of the most powerful. It feel so strange to stand on thr ground where so much death happened. I found the tree the hardest part of the site.