Cambodia, an East-Asian nation is home to several historical sites. Some of them are remains of the ancient era, while some other sites speak for the country’s survival and strength from the dark periods of its pre-medieval age. Still some other monuments stand testimony to the reemergence of the country in the post-Vietnamese war. But, many are in the dark about the tortures and mass killings that characterized the Pol Pot regime (Khmer Rouge Regime) in the late 20th century. The components of this reign of terror were the rules, the prison and the extermination site.
It all started when Khmer Rouge party began ruling Cambodia. Czar Saloth, also called Pol Pot, belonging to Khmer Rouge Party, who ruled the country during 1975-79, introduced draconian rules which compelled the people to become forced labourers. His ostensible agenda was to rebuild the country and its civilization through slavery and subjugation. The rules were very cruel, torturous, tough and barbaric.
Salient features of the rules were:
- People must work as slaves, and anybody questioning the rule would be tortured and killed without impunity.
- It killed all modern developments, taking the country backwards.
- All scholars, educated, teachers and philosophers were hacked to death to avoid spreading of education.
- All schools, hospitals and private companies were closed down and children barred from learning.
- Children were separated from their families and put in factories to work for the government.
- Doctors and engineers were done to death in a move to destroy services.
- Religions and preachers were declared “unlawful” and hence their activities banned. Mosques and Buddhist temples were demolished, and mullahs and monks annihilated.
- Total censor prevailed and no legal news agency functioned, with the result the world outside was not knowing anything of what happened within the country.
It was genocide making a toll of 1.5-2.0 millions of human beings during that regime.
Tuol Sleng Prison: All opponents, rebels, non-communist groups, and people who didn’t fall in line with the ruler, were captured and tortured in a prison called Tuol Sleng without compunction. This was a school, then closed down by the regime, and now converted into a prison formed with cells with very restricted space for movements. The inmates were chained to the iron bars. No interaction, no laughing or smiling was allowed between prisoners. Absence of medical facilities contributed to the death of many prisoners.
Choeung Ek Extermination Site: The dead prisoners were buried in a site called Choeung Ek, about 10kms away from the prison. Again there was heavy cramping in that in a few square meters area, about 17,000 bodies from this Tuol Sleng prison had been buried. When, subsequently the site was dug up, thousands of decomposed bodies came out confirming the great melee in the burial site.
End of Khmer Rouge Regime: At last an end came to this Pol Pot rule of terror (the Khmer Rouge Regime) when the Vietnamese invaded the country and captured Phnom Penh, the capital of the country in January, 1979. Only after this fall, the outside world came to know the tortures and the brutal, mass killings. The erstwhile prison and the extermination sites function now as museums. The happenings also have become subject matters of case studies in leading universities. But the cruelties and the merciless killings still haunt human memory.
Image credit: Adam Jones
Image credit: Christian Haugen