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Tuol Sleng Torture Museum Today, S-21 Prison is known as the Tuol Sleng Museum of Genocide. Inside the gates, it looks like any high school; five buildings face a grass courtyard with pull-up bars, green lawns and lawn-bowling pitches

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Tuol Sleng

Torture Museum


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  • Tuol Svay Pray High School sits on a dusty road on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, Cambodia. In 1976, the Khmer Rouge renamed the high school S-21 and turned it into a torture, interrogation and execution center. Of the 14,000 people known to have entered, only seven survived


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  • The four-year reign of the Khmer Rouge (1975-9) took more than a million lives-10 percent of the Cambodian population, dead from disease, starvation and murder. There was overwhelming evidence that the Khmer Rouge violated the Nuremberg Principles, the United Nations Charter, the laws of war, and possibly the UN Genocide Convention, yet no individuals have ever been tried in legitimate courts, much less punished.


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  • Pol Pot declared 'Year Zero' and directed a ruthless program to "purify" Cambodian society of capitalism, Western culture, religion and all foreign influences in favour of an isolated and totally self-sufficient Maoist agrarian state. No opposition was tolerated.

  • Foreigners were expelled, embassies closed, and the currency abolished. Public servants, police, military officers, teachers, ethnic Vietnamese, Christian clergy, Muslim leaders, members of the Cham Muslim minority, members of the middle class and the educated were identified and executed.


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  • Cities were emptied and their former inhabitants deemed "new people". The country's entire population was forced to relocate to agricultural collectives, the so-called "killing fields". Inmates existed in primitive conditions. Families were separated. Buddhist monks were defrocked and forced into labour brigades. Former city residents were subjected to unending political indoctrination. Children were encouraged to spy on adults.


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  • Thousands were worked or starved to death, died of disease or exposure, or were summarily executed for minor infractions of camp discipline. Infringements punishable by death include not working hard enough, wearing jewellery, engaging in sexual relations, complaining about living conditions, collecting or stealing food for personal consumption, grieving over the loss of relatives or friends and expressing religious sentiments


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  • Khmer Rouge records from the Tuol Sleng interrogation and detention centre in Phnom Penh show that 2,404 "antiparty elements" were tortured and executed from 1975 to 1976.

  • In 1977 6,330 were killed at the centre. The records show that 5,765 die in the first six months of 1978.

  • At least 20 other similar centres operate throughout the country.


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  • In 1977, almost the entire population was involved in agricultural production, yet Cambodia experienced food shortages, resulting in many more deaths. Conflicts along the Thai, Laotian and Vietnamese borders escalated. Relations with Vietnam broke in December of that year.


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  • On 25 December, 1978 the Vietnamese launched a full-scale military invasion of Cambodia, rapidly pushing aside the Khmer Rouge. Phnom Penh was captured on 7 January 1979.

  • Pol Pot and the defeated Khmer Rouge retreated to the country's remote western regions from where they staged a guerilla war destined to last a further 20 years.


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  • Not only did the Khmer Rouge carefully transcribe the prisoners' interrogations; they also carefully photographed the vast majority of the inmates and created an astonishing photographic archive.

  • Each of the almost 6,000 S-21 portraits that have been recovered tells a story shock, resignation, confusion, defiance and horror.


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  • In another building the walls are papered with thousands of S-21 portraits. A mother with her baby in her arms stares into the camera with a look of indignant resignation. The photographs and confessions were collected in order to prove to the Khmer Rouge leaders that their orders had been carried out.


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  • When the Vietnamese arrived at Tuol Sleng they vowed to leave it as they found it to show the world the evils which had taken place under the rule of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge

  • As a result, there are still blood stains on the floors.

  • Barbed wire enmeshes the top floor to stop inmates from committing suicide and there are many implements of torture remaining .


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  • The seven people who survived were all regarded as being useful by their captors.

  • One of the survivors was an artist who the Khmer Rouge used to record their deeds. He has since painted many images of life in the place of genocide.

  • These paintings remain as a part of the museums exhibits.


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