Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, December 2015. It wasn’t all fun and games during my stay in Phnom Penh. Somewhere along the way my travel mate and I knew we had to stop by this former torture centre to learn more about Cambodia’s dark history. The atrocities carried out here by The Khmer Rouge in the 1970s were unspeakable, and while it was surely nobody’s idea of a fun morning, I felt we owed it to the victims to see the place, hear their stories and leave a silent prayer. Located right in the heart of the city, Tuol Sleng was one of at least 150 Khmer Rouge torture centers dotted around the country between 1975-1979.
Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, December 2015. Visitors move around the complex with the help of an excellent audio guide tour. Resting on one of the stone benches in the leafy, tranquil courtyard, you can only imagine the extent of the horror when, in 1975, Pol Pot’s security forces stormed this former high school and quickly transformed it into the country’s largest detention and torture centre.
Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, December 2015. The school’s classrooms were turned into prison cells and interrogation rooms such as this one. Inmates were typically subjected to interviews that went on for hours and subsequently tortured until they admitted to whatever crimes against the state they’d been accused of. Details of the actual torture carried out are too sickening to go into. Having signed their confessions, inmates were later transferred out of the city to Choeung Ek Killing Fields.
Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, December 2015. This is a cellblock in the infamous Building C, a large living quarters that housed hundred of prisoners. Many were shackled to iron bars, which the centre’s ‘cadres’ (prison guards) routinely checked and tightened every morning. Later on, as the insanity and paranoia of The Khmer Rouge reached boiling point, many of the guards became prisoners themselves and were tortured and killed by their new replacements.
Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, December 2015. This compound overview somehow felt even more depressing than the museum’s most gruesome exhibitions. Maybe it was the ordinariness of the buildings or the quiet prettiness of its peaceful grounds. In any case, it’s estimated that only seven people managed to avoid execution from the twenty-seven thousand that were brought here. In the end the centre was shut down in early 1979 when the Vietnamese Army liberated Phnom Penh. Two of the survivors, Mr. Chum Mey and Mr. Bou Meng are still alive today and can often be found onsite, sharing their experiences and signing copies of their books.