Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Phnom Penh

Today I gained a whole new perspective on Cambodians and the beautiful country I am experiencing. This morning we went to the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek which is the site of 129 mass graves and evidence of atrocities committed by the Khmer Rouge dictatorship which ruled the country in the 70s. 
Officially called the Communist Party of Kampuchea, policies were set up that disregarded human life and produced repression and massacres on a huge scale, with the aim of  turning the country into a rural, classless society. Thousands of people were turfed out of cities to work in the countryside, many of whom died along the way. If they were unfortunate enough to stay alive, they toiled for 12 hours a day or more to produce an unachievable amount of rice, a quota set by Pol Pot, the regimes leader. 
Many Cambodians who threatened the movement such as intellects were caught and taken to S-21 prison where they were detained, interrogated and tortured until they confessed to crimes they were not guilty of. Then they were executed. As the extent of the killing grew, many prisoners were taken from S-21 to the Killing Fields where they would then be made to kneel at the foot of a mass grave before being hacked or bludgeoned to death. Bullets were too precious to be used. Even more horrifying, babies were killed by being battered against a tree before being tossed into an open grave. When the site was found, blood, hair and scalp were found on the tree which is still standing today. The largest of the mass graves was found to hold 450 corpses, of the 8985 exhumed at Choeung Ek. 
Fragments of bone, teeth and cloth are still being churned up by the frequent rains meaning wardens are collecting yet more debris every few months, as if the spirits of the dead cannot rest in peace. 
To get a sense of perspective of the devastation which killed around 1.7 million people, one in every four people would have died one way or another at the hands of monsters.
A Memorial Stupa is the centre point at Choeung Ek and it houses more than 8000 skulls and bones which have been documented in to categories determined by how the person was killed. I was clearly able to see gaping holes in the skulls where blunt instruments were used to murder the helpless people in cold blood. 
S-21 was a school prior to the genocide and so is set up in blocks surrounding a now grassy courtyard. Now it is the Tuol Sleng Museum of Genocide and there are exhibitions displaying mugshots of prisoners all of whom have a look of tragic resignation on their faces, horrific black and white photos of unearthed mass graves and actual torture tools used including the remnants of gallows used to torture the prisoners. The atmosphere is chilling. 
For the last three decades, Cambodia has suffered unimaginable horrors that still greatly affect the population today. With the increase of tourists curious to learn more, money generated can help those who have been left destitute by the Khmer Rouge regime and encourage a revival of the Cambodian people.