Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum – Phnom Penh, Cambodia

The Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in museum located in capital city of Cambodia – Phnom Penh. Museum is located in the site where was a former high school. That high school was used as a Security Prison 21 (known as S-21) by the Khmer Rouge. Communist regime led by Khmer Rouge rise to power in 1975 and definitely fall in 1979. Tuol Sleng means “Hill of the Poisonous Trees”.

Prison Tuol Sleng (S-21), Phnom Penh, Cambodia

S-21 was formerly  known as the Chao Ponhea Yat High School. School was named after a Royal ancestor of King Norodom Sihanouk. All the five buildings in the site of the complex were converted in August 1975, four months after the Khmer Rouge won the civil war, into a prison and rough interrogation center. The Khmer Rouge immediately began to change the school for the prison. School buildings were enclosed in electrified barbed wire, the classrooms converted into tiny prison and torture chambers. All windows were covered with iron bars and barbed wire to prevent escapes.

Razor wire - Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum (Phnom Penh, Cambodia)

From 1975 to 1979, an estimated 14.000 – 17.000 people were imprisoned at Tuol Sleng prison (some estimates suggest a number as high as 20.000; the real number is unknown). At any one time the prison held maximum 1.500 prisoners.

Prisoners were in S-21 repeatedly tortured and coerced into naming family members and close associates, who were in turn arrested, tortured and killed. In the early months of S-21′s existence most of the victims were from the previous Lon Nol(former president of Cambodia) regime and included soldiers, government officials, academics, doctors, teachers, students,  monks, engineers. Everyone who had spoken French or other foreign language was in extremely dangerous.

Prisoners in Tuol Sleng prison, Phnom Penh, Cambodia

In time, when the party leadership’s paranoia turned on, many of party activists and their families were brought to Tuol Sleng and murdered. Those arrested included some of the highest ranking communist politicians of Khmer Rouge. Although the official reason for their arrest was “espionage”, these men may have been viewed by Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot as potential leaders of a coup against him. Prisoners’ families were often brought to Tuol Sleng to be interrogated and later very quickly murdered.

The apocalyptic prison was uncovered by the invading Vietnamese army in 1979. In 1980, the prison was reopened by the government as a historical museum (open to the public).

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