Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Hill of the Poisonous Trees - Tuol Sleng, Cambodia

Tuol Sleng in Khmer means "Hill of the Poisonous Trees" or "Strychnine Hill." It's a name given by locals to the site of a former prison (Security Prison 21, or S-21), established by the Khmer Rouge communist regime to interrogate and execute "enemies of the state." Today, the building of the prison hosts a museum - Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum.

Tuol Sleng: a prison, interrogation and extermination center
During the four years of Khmer Rouge regime (between 1975 to 1979) an estimated 17'000 people were imprisoned at Tuol Sleng. At any one time, the prison held up to 1'500 prisoners, who were tortured and coerced into admitting plotting against the Khmer Rouge party, as well as naming family members and friends who were involved in the same. Initially, most of the prisoners at Tuol Sleng were soldiers and government officials from the previous Lon Nol regime, but soon it also became a site of imprisonment for academics, doctors, teachers, students, monks, and even some of the Khmer Rouge own party activists and their families.

Photos of some of the prisoners who were tortured and killed at Tuol Sleng

Photos showing different types of injuries to the skull

There are four main buildings at Tuol Sleng preserved as they were left when the Khmer Rouge were driven out in 1979. One of the buildings holds the large torture cells in which the bodies of the last victims were discovered. Second building holds the rooms subdivided into small cells where prisoners were kept, and the third building holds instruments of torture used at the prison. The last building is lined with black and white photographs of the prisoners, as well as photos and informational displays about the people who run the prison.

Toul Sleng Prison

Inside the prison

The Khmer Rouge regime was very organized and systematic both in killing people and documenting their death 
Prison's corridor and cells

A visit to Tuol Sleng compliments well a visit to Choeung Ek, but it also makes for a very though and emotionally disturbing half a day. Still, it's important to be reminded about the gruesome history of our civilization once in a while, and try to learn from the mistakes of the past to create a better future for us and our children.
The wounds of the past haven't healed yet: at the museum, the faces of the Khemr Rouge leaders are scratched off and completely unrecognizable