Cambodia is a south-east Asian nation that is well known for its traditional and heritage sites. The country has a lot of sites that are remains of huge empires of the country in the ancient period. Cambodia is also known for its survival of the dark ages in the post-medieval period and its resurrection after the Vietnam War. However, not many know about the genocide and mass-killings that happened in the country in the later part of the 20th century, a time when the United Nations was established and civil rights were brought upon all over the world.
Cambodia was ruled by the Khmer Rouge party between 1975 and 1979. The party was led by the Czar Saloth who was popularly known as Pol Pot. He bought about a string of stringent rules that pushed the people of Cambodia to become forced laborers. His intention was to rebuild the Cambodian civilization from the scratch by means of slavery. The rules that were imposed under his regime were stricter than anyone could ever think of. According to his theory, every citizen of Khmer Cambodia was his slave and should obey the government’s rules. Those who were disobedient or opposed to the regime were brutally tortured and mercilessly killed.
As the main idea was to create a new civilization, the men under his regime went on a killing spree in a move to abolish all kinds of modern developments in the country. All those who were educated, scholars, philosophers and teachers were killed to stop the spreading of education. All the schools were shut down and children were barred from learning any sort of education. On the other hand, they were forced to part from their families and work for the industries and factories of the Khmer Rouge government.
Apart from these, the hospitals and private owned companies were demolished to stop any further individual growth. Doctors and engineers were brutally murdered and the proof of their existence was erased. Religion was declared illegal within the country and preachers were announced to be traitors of the government for disobeying the rules. As a result, all the Buddhist temples and Muslims’ mosque were demolished all over the country. The monks were murdered without any question.
The Khmer Rouge government did not spare any one Cambodian young or old, rich or poor. They rather embarked on their policy of clearing the pre-existing ideals of the country and recreating a ripe old civilization in the modern world. News about what was happening in the country was prevented from going out as there was no legal news agency that was allowed to operate from within. All sorts of communication were severed from and to the country. This resulted in an isolated nation being ruled stringently by a Czar for four cruel years. It is believed that almost 1.5 million people were mercilessly killed in the four year period. Though some sources still claim the count should have possibly crossed the 2 million mark.
Tuol Sleng prison
All those who had opposed the party before and after it came to power were captured and tortured for months together. The list included leaders from opposition parties, rebels within the country, non-communist groups and people who disobeyed the rules imposed by the government. These people were captured and tortured in a prison called Tuol Sleng.
The Tuol Sleng prison is a school that was shut down by the government and converted into a prison for the sole purpose of torturing the so-said traitors of the government. The classrooms of the school were converted into cells for the prisoners. Since each of the classrooms was divided into more than a dozen cells, the prisoners hardly had any place to even lie down let alone move or roam around the place.
The inmates of the prison received countless tortures and difficulties. They were shut down in their respective cells and were shackled to the iron bars in the cells or to the window bars. Every morning, the shackles are checked to prevent any possible escape of the inmates. They were not allowed to speak with each other and laughing or smiling was considered to be an offense.
Every prisoner, when first brought to the prison, is forcibly interrogated by the Khmer Rouge guards. They are asked to list out their every activity since childhood. This is to extract every contact that they have in the country so that they can find them out for further extermination. The prisoners confess every detail about their families, every work place and friends and relatives. Once the confession is over, the family members and friends are searched and brought to the prison and the process continues. These people are then made to stay in the prison to be tortured and slowly killed.
Since the prisoners were not given access to any kind of medical facilities, most of the prisoners died due to internal illness. Skin diseases and other contagious diseases began to spread among the inmates and this swallowed a sizable number of prisoners. Others were either tortured or killed for fun by the Khmer Rouge guards. It is estimated that about 18000 people were imprisoned in the small school of Tuol Sleng and almost all of them were killed in the four year period. It is said that only a dozen of those survived the regime and came out alive after the regime. This was because of the reason that each of them were of some or the other use to the guards and the government.
Choeung Ek extermination site
The prisoners who died in the prison or were deliberately killed were exterminated in a burial site called Choeung Ek. The place is situated about 10 kilometers close to the Tuol Sleng prison. The extermination site is spread only across a few square meters but was used to bury almost all the 17000 corpse as a result of the mass killing in the Tuol Sleng prison. Excavation of the site in the later period led to the discovery of 9000 decomposed bodies. The portions of the site which had a space for only five bodies to be buried were used for more than a hundred corpses.
The Khmer Rouge was brought to an end as a result of the Vietnamese invasion of the country to oppose the rule of Pol Pot. The war which continued for a lot of years ended in January, 1979 after Phnom Peh, the capital of Cambodia was captured. Only after the fall of the Khmer Rouge Empire did the outside world get to know about the cruel happenings within the country. This prison and the extermination site have now been converted into museums, which attract thousands of visitors each day. The genocide in Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge has been taken up as a case study in a lot of educational institutions like the Yale and Cambridge Universities.