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Musings from the World of Jewel Scarves for Cambodia Journals for the Journey

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Genocide in Cambodia

Warning: This is sad and could be considered disturbing.

The Khmer Rouge - the name given to the followers of the Communist Party of Kampuchea, which was the ruling party in Cambodia from 1975 to 1979, led by Pol Pot (Prime Minister.) The Khmer Rouge subjected Cambodia to a radical social reform process that was aimed at creating a purely agrarian-based Communist society. The urban-dwellers were deported to the countryside, where they were combined with the local population and subjected to forced labor. About 2 million Cambodians (or 21% of the population) are estimated to have died in waves of murder, torture, and starvation, aimed particularly at the educated and intellectual elite.

The Khmer Rouge wanted to eliminate anyone suspected of "involvement in free-market activities." Suspected capitalists encompassed professionals and almost everyone with an education, many urban dwellers, and people with connections to foreign governments. In addition, the Khmer Rouge believed parents were tainted with capitalism. Consequently, children were separated from parents and brainwashed to socialism as well as taught torture methods with animals. Children were a "dictatorial instrument of the party" and were given leadership in torture and executions.

One of their mottoes, in reference to urban-dwellers, was:
"To keep you is no benefit. To destroy you is no loss."
Understandably, Cambodia has had a rough recovery after losing the large majority of the educated population.

The Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum: The buildings at Tuol Sleng have remained preserved as they were when the Khmer Rouge were driven out in 1979; in fact, the museum opened in 1980 "as is."
The site is a former high school which was used as the notorious Security Prison 21 by the Khmer Rouge communist regime from 1975 to 1979. Tuol Sleng means "Hill of the Poisonous Trees." The buildings were enclosed in electrified barbed wire, the classrooms converted into tiny prison and torture chambers, and all windows were covered with iron bars and barbed wire to prevent escapes. At any one time, the prison held between 1,000–1,500 prisoners.

Chum Mey is one of only twelve known survivors of the Khmer Rouge imprisonment in the S-21 Tuol Sleng camp, where between 17,000 and 20,000 Cambodians were sent for execution. He survived two years of torture and his life was only spared because of his high level of competence in machine repair for Pol Pot's soldiers. I was humbled to meet him in 2009. In the picture above, he is pointing to a picture of himself alongside other prisoners. This year Bong Chum Mey will be 80-years-old.

Security Regulations
When prisoners were first brought to Tuol Sleng, they were made aware of ten rules that they were to follow during their incarceration. What follows is what is posted today at the Tuol Sleng Museum; the imperfect grammar is a result of faulty translation from the original Khmer:
  • 1. You must answer accordingly to my question. Don’t turn them away.
  • 2. Don’t try to hide the facts by making pretexts this and that, you are strictly prohibited to contest me.
  • 3. Don’t be a fool for you are a chap who dare to thwart the revolution.
  • 4. You must immediately answer my questions without wasting time to reflect.
  • 5. Don’t tell me either about your immoralities or the essence of the revolution.
  • 6. While getting lashes or electrification you must not cry at all.
  • 7. Do nothing, sit still and wait for my orders. If there is no order, keep quiet. When I ask you to do something, you must do it right away without protesting.
  • 8. Don’t make pretext about Kampuchea Krom in order to hide your secret or traitor.
  • 9. If you don’t follow all the above rules, you shall get many many lashes of electric wire.
  • 10. If you disobey any point of my regulations you shall get either ten lashes or five shocks of electric discharge.

Left: Inside the small cell there are shackles for the hands and feet; a bowl for food, and a box for relieving oneself. The prisoners received four small spoonfuls of rice porridge and watery soup of leaves twice a day, and were hosed off once every four days.
Right: Sign reads: "Killing tree against which executioners beat children." In a pile at the base of the tree are bones.

Upon arrival at the prison, prisoners were photographed. Several rooms of the museum are now lined, floor to ceiling, with black and white photographs of some of the estimated 20,000 prisoners who passed through the prison.

By December 1978, because of several years of border conflict and the flood of refugees fleeing Cambodia, relations between Cambodia and Vietnam collapsed. Pol Pot, fearing a Vietnamese attack, ordered a pre-emptive invasion of Vietnam. His Cambodian forces crossed the border and looted nearby villages. These Cambodian forces were repulsed by the Vietnamese.
Then, alongside many dissatisfied former Khmer Rouge members, the Vietnamese armed forces invaded Cambodia, capturing Phnom Penh on January 7, 1979. Despite a traditional Cambodian fear of Vietnamese domination, defecting Khmer Rouge activists assisted the Vietnamese, and, with Vietnam's approval, became the core of the new People's Republic of Kampuchea, quickly dismissed by the Khmer Rouge and China as a "puppet government".

In 1985 Vietnam declared that it would complete the withdrawal of its forces from Cambodia by 1990 and did so in 1989, having allowed the government that it had instated there to consolidate and gain sufficient military strength.

Since 1990 Cambodia has gradually recovered, demographically and economically, from the Khmer Rouge regime, although the psychological scars affect many Cambodian families and émigré communities. It is noteworthy that Cambodia has a very young population and by 2003 three-quarters of Cambodians were too young to remember the Khmer Rouge era.

Members of this younger generation may know of the Khmer Rouge only through word of mouth from parents and elders. In part, this is because the government does not require that educators teach children about Khmer Rouge atrocities in the schools.

Click: HERE for more information about Toul Sleng,
HERE for more information about the Khmer Rouge,
and HERE for more information about Pol Pot.

Love love love, Jewel

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