S-21 The lost generation
S21 (Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum)– Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Images of detainees ©Genocide Museum/Khmer Rouge
Yesterday I heard via the BBC that the infamous Kaing Guek Eav, or 'Duch' the director of the Khmer Rouge's most infamous prison S-21 had been found guilty and sentenced.
When I was visiting S21 a little over two weeks ago, there was a small exhibition/display on the second floor of Block C recounting the fact that none of the major perpetrators and instigators of the Khmer Rouge atrocities had yet been convicted. The main suspects had either died (in the case of Pol Pot) or were under house arrest awaiting trial.
To see this school turned torture camp in the centre of the city is an eye-opener to say the least. You can read all the references below. I went around the site with a splitting headache cause my disbelief and shock that this sort of thing could happen in what we think of as a ‘modern society’.
My love of the Cambodians, their humour, culture, beliefs, resolve and shear industriousness made me feel very humble but very proud. I’m not going to bang on about their hardships, you can find that out for yourself, but go to their country, discover them as I did and just be amazed. I have to go back soon, I am addicted.
So, I will today I will dedicate these images to the first ‘big conviction’ by posting my interpretations of S21 and the “Killing Fields”. Think of them today and move on as they have. Choose life, love and hope.
Times Online – Confessions extracted under torture in the Khmer Rouge's brutal prisons were rarely true, the regime's prisons chief admitted today.
Kaing Guek Eav, or 'Duch' the director of the Khmer Rouge's most infamous prison S-21, told a Cambodia war crimes tribunal he took part in torture sessions and ordered his subordinates to beat prisoners who were to be 'smashed' to death with an iron bar.
Duch was renowned for reading every confession brought to him from the interrogation sessions, often correcting them in red pen. However, he said today, he rarely believed them.
"I never believed the confessions I received told the truth. At most, they were about 40 percent true," he told the Extraordinary Chambers of the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) in the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh..
The 66-year-old former school-master is in the second week of a hearing at the UN-backed tribunal, charged with crimes against humanity, war crimes, torture and homicide.
He has already accepted responsiblity for the atrocities committed at S-21 under his command, and apologised to his victims but he maintains that he was a scapegoat of Pol Pot's genocidal regime which presided over the death of 1.7 million Cambodians during its 1975 - 1979 rule.
The former school-master is answering questions about M-13, a secret security centre in the jungle he ran from 1971-1975 during the Khmer Rouge insurgency against the US-backed military government.
He was posted to S-21 after impressing his superiors with his fanatical devotion to the communist cause, and his brutally meticulous directorship of M-13.
He told the court M-13 was surrounded by a bamboo fence and shackled prisoners were often held in two-metre deep pits, both to prevent escape and to protect them from US warplanes carpet-bombing the area
He claimed he personally tortured only two people but admitted: "The burden is still on me - it's my responsibility. I would like to apologise to the souls of those who died," he said.
The ECCC is questioning him over M-13 to get a better understanding of the structure of S-21.
Wikipedia – Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum
Formerly the Chao Ponhea Yat High School, named after a Royal ancestor of King Norodom Sihanouk, the five buildings of the complex were converted in August 1975, four months after the Khmer Rouge won the civil war, into a prison and interrogation center. The Khmer Rouge renamed the complex "Security Prison 21" (S-21) and construction began to adapt the prison to the inmates: the buildings were enclosed in electrified barbed wire, the classrooms converted into tiny prison and torture chambers, and all windows were covered with iron bars and barbed wire to prevent escapes.
From 1975 to 1979, an estimated 17,000 people were imprisoned at Tuol Sleng (some estimates suggest a number as high as 20,000, although the real number is unknown). At any one time, the prison held between 1,000-1,500 prisoners. They were repeatedly tortured and coerced into naming family members and close associates, who were in turn arrested, tortured and killed. In the early months of S-21's existence, most of the victims were from the previous Lon Nol regime and included soldiers, government officials, as well as academics, doctors, teachers, students, factory workers, monks, engineers, etc. Later, the party leadership's paranoia turned on its own ranks and purges throughout the country saw thousands of party activists and their families brought to Tuol Sleng and murdered. Those arrested included some of the highest ranking communist politicians such as Khoy Thoun, Vorn Vet and Hu Nim. Although the official reason for their arrest was "espionage", these men may have been viewed by Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot as potential leaders of a coup against him. Prisoners' families were often brought en masse to be interrogated and later murdered at the Choeung Ek extermination center.
In 1979, the prison was uncovered by the invading Vietnamese army. In 1980, the prison was reopened by the government of the People's Republic of Kampuchea as a historical museum memorializing the actions of the Khmer Rouge regime.
The museum is open to the public, and receives an average of 500 visitors every day.
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