S-21 Torture Prison, Phnom Penh, Cambodia

I visited Cambodia recently and during my trip I visited an abandoned torture prison, formerly known as S-21. The site used to be a school but 50 years ago was overtaken by a Cambodian Communist party, the Khmer Rouge. From 1975 – 1979, they waged a bloody war on the civilians of Cambodia and murdered almost 3 million men, women and children. S-21 was the prison they brought 14, 000 prisoners to, where they interrogated, tortured and eventually slaughtered them. When Vietnamese forces finally defeated the bloody regime in 1979, only 7 survivors were found inside.

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The prison has been left almost the way it was when the Khmer Rouge used it as a killing base during their reign of terror. There is still blood on the floor in some rooms and fingernail scrapings along the staircase walls. The rooms that were used to torture the prisoners have wooden desks behind which the interrogators would have sat. In front of the desks, are bed frames on which the prisoners were made to lie down on and the shackles which bound them to the frame are still present. It was here that many were accused of working for the CIA-KGB and were coerced into giving a confession. These confessions were carefully collected and transcribed by the Khmer Rouge aswell as photographs of their dead bodies – which are now on display in the prison.

Furthermore, there is a collection of headshot photographs from when the prisoners first entered S-21. Looking at the faces of the people as they were photographed by their captors, you can’t help but wonder what was going through their head. Some have blank, vacant expressions implying they know what’s to come while others look confused. Some have blood on their faces and some are even smiling. Its unfathomable how the Khmer Rouge took pride in their vast photography and “confession” collection and used them to prove to their leaders that they were true to the regime.

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As I walked around the four former prison buildings listening to my audio tour guide, I was speechless. The heartless Khmer Rouge soldiers would keep the prisoners in tiny cells the size of coffins before dragging them out and torturing them either by waterboarding, ripping off their fingernails, electrocution or using chemical substances.

The photographs were hard to look at, but they are a true portrayal of just how cruel humans can be towards others. I have the belief that everyone, especially in the Western world, should know about the true events that occur during civil and international wars. Its important that we know what humans can do to each other because it doesn’t just affect people in poor countries. There is too much dismissal, denial and misinformation in the Western world about humanitarian suffering and collateral damage because of lunatic groups such as the Khmer Rouge.

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