Thursday, October 9, 2008

Cambodia – A vibrant culture, charming people, jaw-dropping sights (part 6)

TUOL SLENG Museum - Museum of Genocidal Crimes

"TUOL SLENG" Museum of Genocid Crimes is in Phnom Penh, the captial of Cambodia. In the past, Tuol Sleng Museum was one of the secondary schools in the capital called "Tuol Svay Prey" high school. After the Khmer Rouge outlawed education in April 1975, the school was transformed into a prison called S21 (Security office 21) which was the biggest in Kampuchea Democratic. It was surrounded with double wall of corrugated iron, surmounted by dense barbed wire. The classrooms on the ground and the 1st floors were pierced and divided into individual cells, whereas the ones on the second floor were used for mass detention.

Several thousands of the victims including peasants, workers, technicians, engineers, doctors, teachers, students, Buddhist monks, ministers, Pol Pot’s cadre, soldiers of all ranks, the Cambodian Diplomatic corps, foreigners, etc were imprisoned here. They were subjected to all kinds of inhumane tortures. The torture system was designed to make prisoners confess to whatever crimes they were charged with by their captors. Prisoners were routinely beaten and tortured with electric shocks, searing hot metal instruments and hanging, as well as through the use of various other devices. Some prisoners were cut with knives or suffocated with plastic bags. Other methods for generating confessions included pulling out fingernails while pouring alcohol on the wounds, holding prisoners’ heads under water. Females were sometimes raped by the interrogators. Although many prisoners died from this kind of abuse, killing them outright was discouraged, since the Khmer Rouge needed their confessions. Even after confession, the prisoners would still have to face execution and sometime was exterminated with their wives and their children.

Between 1975 and 1979, an estimated two million Cambodians, including children, died by execution, torture, over laborious and famine. The bodies were dumped in mass graves at a site later called The Killing Fields in the village of Choeng Ek, Cambodia's third largest tourist attraction.

Tuol Sleng Museum, also known as Museum of Genocidal Crimes, is second largest tourist attractions after Angkor Wat. It now houses exhibits, paintings and photographs of many of the victims. Walk around the museum and you can still find a lot of evidences proving the atrocities of Pol Pot clique - cells, instrument of torture, dossiers and documents, list of prisoners’ names, mug shots of victims, their clothes and their belongings, etc…

The Victims’ Graves...
The bodies of the last 14 victims were brought out and buried here by the Vietnameses.

When prisoners were first brought to Tuol Sleng, they were made aware of 10 rules that they were to follow during their incarceration. Below is what was posted and displayed at the Tuol Sleng Museum; the imperfect grammar is a result of faulty translation from the original Khmer:
The Security of Regulations
1. You must answer accordingly to my question. Don’t turn them away.
2. Don’t try to hide the facts by making pretexts this and that, you are strictly prohibited to contest me.
3. Don’t be a fool for you are a chap who dare to thwart the revolution.
4. You must immediately answer my questions without wasting time to reflect.
5. Don’t tell me either about your immoralities or the essence of the revolution.
6. While getting lashes or electrification you must not cry at all.
7. 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.
8. Don’t make pretext about Kampuchea Krom
in order to hide your secret or traitor.
9. If you don’t follow all the above rules, you shall get many many lashes of electric wire.
10. If you disobey any point of my regulations you shall get either ten lashes or five shocks of electric discharge.

Building ‘A’ is a 3-storey building. The classrooms on the ground floor of this block had been converted into interrogation and torture cells. The upper floors were used to detain prisoners.

Below are some of the interrogation cells. These cells were used to torture and extract confessions from the prisoners.

water torture...

These were the few out of the many inhumane torturing methods used on the prisoners.

The Gallows
These were originally used for students to exercise, but the Khmer Rouge found a more sinister use for them. Prisoners had their hands tied behind their back and were hung upside down until they passed out. They were then revived by having their heads submerged in filthy water (which was often used as fertilizer) in the clay pots shown in the photo.

Below is Building 'B' which is now used to display the photographs of the victims.

They were the few out of the thousands of pictures of the Khmer Rouge victims - men, women and children who were duly photographed, then tortured and killed. More than 20,000 people were captured and brought to Tuol Sleng, only 7 were known to have survived.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * R I P * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Block 'C' - The ground floor (1st floor) classrooms were partitioned into tiny brick built cells. The 1st floor (2nd floor) classrooms were sectioned with wooden partitions to make equally small cells (pictures below). The balconies were covered with wire mesh to prevent suicides; after seeing this I can understand why one would rather commit suicide. The ground floor classrooms were partitioned into tiny brick built cells. The 1st floor classrooms were sectioned with wooden partitions to make equally small cells.

Take a closer look at the wire mesh wrapping Block 'C'. Would any prisoner dared to escape?

top left: brick built cells at ground Floor (1st Floor)
top right: wooden cells at 2nd Floor

They are 2 of the survivors of the notorious Khmer Rouge. Till now, they are still not aware why they were captured and tortured for so many years.

This is the infamous skull map displayed in this museum.

These paintings were painted by Vann Nath, an artist-survivor of Tuol Sleng. He is one of Cambodia’s most prominent artists. It was this skill that kept him alive at S21. His life was spared by his jailers so that he could be put to work - painting and sculpting portraits of Pol Pot. He has played an important role in helping to revive the arts in Cambodia after decades of war and genocide.

No comments: