Cambodia “S-21: Reminder of a horrific past

While the Cambodian population has moved on from its terrible days of 1970s, the government has established a Genocide Museum to remind everyone of the horrific Pol Pot regime that is estimated to have killed nearly 2 million Cambodians between 1975 and 1979. On a visit to Phnom Penh for the Indo-ASEAN and East Asia Summits, some of us on the Prime Minister’s entourage found time to go and visit the infamous Security Prison-21 now better known as S-21. Here’s a brief  report.




One of the victims



From 1975 to 1979, an estimated 17,000 people were imprisoned at Tuol Sleng  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 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.

The skulls: reminder of the horrific past



Prisoners were tied to beds with these instruments; a skull displayed at the Museum


The Khmer Rouge’s polices were guided by its belief that the citizens of Cambodia had been tainted by exposure to outside ideas, especially by the capitalist West. The Khmer Rouge persecuted the educated — such as doctors, lawyers, and current or former military and police. Christian, Buddhist and Muslim citizen also were specifically targeted.


The Genocide Museum has several pixs of victims


In an effort to create a society without competition, in which people worked for the common good, the Khmer Rouge placed people in collective living arrangements — or communes — and enacted “re-education” programs to encourage the commune lifestyle. People were divided into categories that reflected the trust that the Khmer Rouge had for them; the most trustworthy were called “old citizens.” The pro-West and city dwellers began as “new citizens” and could move up to “deportees,” then “candidates” and finally “full rights citizens”; however, most citizens never moved up.
The torture chambers
Those who refused re-education were killed in the fields surrounding the commune or at the infamous prison camp Tuol Sleng Centre, known as S-21. Over four years, the Khmer Rouge killed more than 2 million people through work, starvation and torture.


One of the survivors, now 82, sells a book based on his own memories at this infamous torture centre


In 1979, the prison was uncovered by the invading Vietnamese army. In 1980, the prison was reopened by the government as a historical museum memorializing the actions of the Khmer Rouge regime.
The museum is attracts hundreds of visitors daily.
Me at Genocide Museum



  1. November 23, 2012 -

    Your blog reminded me of my trip to S 21. Could not gather myself to click even one photo at S21 or any other such site. How can some one do this to another human being. A good report.