The Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum is a museum in Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia. An entrance fee of USD2 is collected at the main entrance for the maintenance of the Museum. Before looking around the area, you must observe some customs here – no laughing. Tuol Sleng used to be a high school in a lovely residential neighbourhood in Cambodia but was transformed into a place of torture and death during the terrifying reign of Pol Pot. Tuol Svay Prey High School was one such location. Renamed as Security Prison 21 (S-21), The five buildings at the school were converted into a prison, torture and interrogation center.
Classrooms were converted into tiny prison and torture chambers, the windows were covered with iron bars and barbed wire and the buildings were enclosed with an electrified barbed wire fence.
At first, it’s a bit dull to look around. A run down school and an unimpressive school yard. But as you go from room to room, a comprehension of the horrors that took place here builds within you.
There are brief descriptions of the tortures, a handful of actual photographs of torture victims, and countless displays containing hundreds of photos of the detainees that went through Tuol Sleng. You walk through blood-stained rooms filled with photographs of victims in various stages of torture, photographs of mutilated bodies and forlorn faces of prisoners, as if they knew they were going to die.
There are photos of the men, women, and yes, even children that were housed here, nearly all were tortured. There are rooms with cots and torture devices, complete with photographs of victims actually tortured using those same devices. There are displays of skulls and bones, a depository of deceased victims’ clothing, and personal stories of both the victims and the children that served as Khmer Rouge soldiers during this time. Out of an estimated 17,000 people imprisoned at Tuol Sleng, there were only seven known survivors. As of 2010, only four of them are thought to be still alive.
This is a place you will never forget, even if you want to. Walking into the centre, there is immediately an air about the place, and eerieness that follows you with every step. The makeshift cells and photographs of the victims and some of the horrible things done to them is heartbreaking to see. I’ve never seen anything like Tuol Sleng and it really affected me.The kind of torture and sufferings that were inflicted on the victims were unimaginable.
It stands to send message to the leaders of the world not the repeat the same mistakes that have been commited in Cambodia. The only good thing that can come from such a torturous place is the hope that humans will never be so inhumane ever again.