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Tuol Sleng – Khmer Rouge Torture Center S21 – Phnom Penh

Posted by TravellingStrom on February 8, 2013

Tuol Sleng is a former Khmer Rouge detention and torture camp in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Today it’s a museum, a ghastly reminder of the dark days of the Khmer Rouge regime.

It was once Tuol Svay Prey High School, before the complex’s five buildings were cleared for their new role in 1975. The complex was renamed Security Prison 21 (S-21), barbed wire was added to the perimeter, and the windows were fortified with iron bars. It is now know as Tuol Sleng Museum of Genocide

We arrived at the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum GPS – N11.54868 E104.91792 about 30 minutes after leaving the Killing Fields Museum. This place was right in town not far from my hotel actually, although back in 1975 it was on the outskirts. As has been mentioned, it used to be a school, but in 1975 each of the classrooms were used for a different but gruesome function. 😦

After paying the $2 entry fee, no audio guide this time, the first thing you see is a memorial to the 14 victims that had been killed when the Khmer Rouge fled during the Liberation. These were the bodies of those that were being interrogated at the time although they did forget some prisoners in the cells and 7 of these were found alive, the only good news to be had here.

Except for those memorial coffins this could have been any run down school, with peeling and faded paint and the green grass play area. But, once you enter the first ‘classroom’ you know you have entered hells playground!!!! The bare metal frame bed in the centre of the room is just a reminder of what happened here. The chain and metal bar were how the prisoner was restrained, in each of the rooms were a framed picture, taken by reporters who arrived here and found the dead bodies lying on them.

The whole of the bottom floor of building A was like this, 10 rooms, all used for interrogation and torture. They had not been cleaned to any type of spotless condition, so evidence was all around of the brutality that had been performed here.

The people being incarcerated in S21 were not enemies, they were from WITHIN the Khmer Rouge itself, this is what is so sickening, one wrong word or comment, or doubt and you are taken here for ‘questioning’ and you WILL end up confessing all. And, it was not just you that was brought here, it was your whole family, they suffered the same fate of torture and forced confession to some crime and all were taken to the Choeung Ek Killing Field to be executed in the end, this was to stop any revenge from happening. 😦 The rules here were quite simple.

One of the information boards can explain the situation better than I and you can read more here

The second floor of the prison in Building A were larger rooms and were used for the same purpose and the same with the top floor where they had large groups of prisoners, up to 50 shackled here at a time.

Leaving Building A and heading to Building B, there are a set of monkey bars and old an climbing rope frame. They even found a horrific use for this gym equipment 😦

Building B held room after room of photos of the victims. The prisoners’ photographs and completed confessions formed dossiers that were submitted to Khmer Rouge authorities as proof that the “traitors” had been eliminated. This precise record keeping resembled that of the Nazis and the Jewish Holocaust This section taken from here There is shown in some of the photos what looks like a torture device attached to the back of the head, this is in fact a stopper bar so that the faces were kept in frame for the photos. Some of the victims looked so young, unbelievable that they could be treated that way, any of them for that matter, young or old. Some, of these are also a bit gruesome, they are a record of what the victim looked like after torture.

One of the rooms had photos of the exhumation process, with hundreds and hundreds of skulls racked up, plus a whole stack of shackles that were used.

The next building was filled with information style displays, about the history of the Khmer Rouge and why what happened happened. Also some information on the ‘brothers’, or the regime leaders, Pol Pot was known as Brother Number 1. He was actually a teacher, yet when he came to power he enslaved all teachers and abolished schools!!! The types of people within the Khmer rouge were also demonstrated, with a hierarchy of course, these were the people detained here for the most part. There were also written and typed confessions which were gained only because the victims would say anything to stop the pain. Once they confessed, they went straight onto the ‘smash’ list, but these documents proved to the leaders that they were correct in thinking there were traitors within the organisation.

Then there were photographs and drawings of the methods of torture and the tools used, most of them were farm or workshop implements.

The next section were actual confessions that had been extracted from the victims, these were signed and with a thumb print. Here are two, the first one is a young Cambodian chap called Krub Song who was in the military. The second is an Australian bloke called David Scott from WA. Judging by the tone of the confessions, it would have taken a lot of suffering to have the victims agree to charges they were never told about 😦

Krub Song

David Scott

A couple of photos did not turn out hence the gap in the sequence above. I am unsure, but doubt either body has ever been identified or recovered. There were many many of these confessions on display, the documentation was almost fanatical, like a production line!

We then went to building C, this one was made up of individual cells of brick on the ground floor, wooden cells on the first and mass detention rooms on the top floor. These cells were tiny and were very shoddily made, especially the brick ones, most are in the process of falling down and have been braced up by metal bars anchored to the concrete. There was a chain anchor buried into the concrete, this was where the victim was attached to. Also inside was an ammo box, most likely the toilet and a water bottle. The verandah areas were covered in barbed wire fencing, this was to stop the victims from suicide and thus escaping their fate. It was in one of these brick cells that one of the survivors was found.

The final area was a room that had been set out with all the torture equipment used during this terrible time and a memorial with collections of bones and skulls. Also here were the stories of the survivors, once again the photos were not quite as good as expected but the parts that can be read are quite graphic.

Bou Meng, Survivor

Chum May, Survivor

That concluded this grim day, a horrible thing that happened here, and yet it is not quite over yet. There are still cases in front of a war crimes commission, yet it is so slow, one of the offenders has already walked free with claims of dementia, not fit to stand trial!!!! This is one of the final notices I saw here.

I cannot say too much about the current situation as I am still in country, but some information was brought to my attention that is very worthwhile to read, thanks to Ron2Wheels, you can see the comments HERE Once that page has finished loading(in a new page) Click END on your keyboard or scroll to the bottom and there is the word COMMENTS which is a link, click on that and the page will reload with the comments visible.

Cheers from Phnom Penh

3 Responses to “Tuol Sleng – Khmer Rouge Torture Center S21 – Phnom Penh”

  1. Rob van Steijn said

    Pretty impressive huh. Was there last october. Both the killing fields and tuol sleng. Reading your blog brings back that un-easy feeling again. unbelievable how stuff like this could have happened in my lifetime.

    Anyways, I’m curious about your next destination. Good travels mate. Greetings from Vang-Vieng, Laos.


  2. ron2wheels said

    More than ‘mind blowing’; it’s pure EVIL.
    And let’s NEVER forget that the prick actually died a free man!

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