Once again we were given a stark reminder of the extent to which the people of the region, and more specifically Cambodia, have suffered over the years. Not only was Cambodia heavily bombed by the USA during the 1960s and 1970s, it then was subjected to one of the worst genocides in recent history

In 1975 Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge invaded Phnom Penh. The city was almost immediately evacuated and residents and workers were taken off to labour camps in the country and put to work with the objective of tripling the rice production as a means of building a sustainable economy once the existing economic infrastructure had been destroyed

1975 became ‘Year Zero’. Pol Pot was paranoid about any kind of threat to his leadership and anyone deemed to be an intellectual (including everyone who wore glasses) was rounded up and sent for interrogation. Tuol Sleng or S21 as it become known was one of the prisons/torture centres used by the Khmer Rouge to extract confessions from its victims using the most brutal methods imaginable

In three years the Khmer Rouge, under the leadership of Pol Pot, had killed 3 million Cambodians out of a total population of 8 million people. Meticulous records, including individual photographs, were kept of each of the victims

As the numbers of victims grew, the prison no longer had the capacity to deal with them. An alternative had to be found and it was at this point that the regime began to make use of the ‘Killing Fields’ one of which is about 15km outside the city. On entering we were given an audio guide to listen to as we walked round the area. Just listing the different passages gives a chilling reminder of the atrocities that were carried out here

  1. Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge march into Phnom Penh 17th April 1975
  2. Truck Stop
  3. Dark and Gloomy Detention
  4. The Executioners Working Office
  5. Chemical Substances Storage Room
  6. Mass Grave: 450 Victims
  7. Killing Tools Storage Room
  8. Longan Orchard: People Worked to Death
  9. Mass Grave: 166 Victims Without Heads
  10. Victims’ Clothing
  11. The Killing Tree
  12. The Magic Tree
  13. Memorial Stupa

Whilst the Stupa containing human remains is a stark reminder of past events, the fact that the clothing, bones and teeth of the victims are continually coming to the surface is even more disturbing. They provide a constant reminder of the terrible events of the past and will continue to do so for years to come

S21 and the Killing Fields are further examples of the degree to which humanity can inflict pain and suffering on itself, even more so when you consider that many of those responsible for torturing and killing were the countrymen, friends and family of the victims

This final picture includes a portrait of ‘Duch’ the commander of Tuol Sleng. To date he is the only member of the Khmer Rouge regime to be convicted of crimes against humanity. He recently appealed against his 35 year sentence on the grounds that he was only a junior official following his superiors’ orders under penalty of death. The judges rejected his appeal and increased his sentence from 35 years to life imprisonment

As with all the images, this can be viewed full size by clicking on it. A word of warning though, the final section describes probably the most brutal act carried out by the regime

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