Phnom Penh and some Khmer Rouge history

Our second and final stop in Cambodia was to visit the capital, Phnom Penh. Besides being the capital, Phnom Penh is known for housing the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum.  Originally, the museum was a high school.  However, in 1975 the Khmer Rouge regime, headed by Pol Pot, turned the school into a security prison.  The building was enclosed in electrified barbed wire fence, and the rooms were converted into prison cells, interrogation rooms, and torture chambers. Out of an estimated 17,000 people imprisoned at Tuol Sleng, there were only seven known survivors.  I’ll spare the details of treatment and torture, but suffice it to say it was beyond horrific.  It was a truly somber afternoon.


Below is some background on the Khmer Regime and Pol Pot.  This info was pulled from Wikipedia:

The Khmer Rouge is remembered mainly for the many deaths of an estimated 1.5 million people or 1/5 of the country’s total population (estimates range from 850,000 to two million) under its regime, through execution, torture, starvation and forced labor. Following their leader Pol Pot, the Khmer Rouge imposed an extreme form of social engineering on Cambodian society—a radical form of agrarian communism where the whole population had to work in collective farms or forced labor projects. In terms of the number of people killed as a proportion of the population (est. 7.5 million people, as of 1975), it was one of the most lethal regimes of the 20th century.

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. 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.

After four years of rule, the Khmer Rouge regime was removed from power in 1979 as a result of an invasion by the Socialist Republic of Vietnam and was replaced by moderate, pro-Vietnamese Communists. It survived into the 1990s as a resistance movement operating in western Cambodia from bases in Thailand. In 1996, following a peace agreement, their leader Pol Pot formally dissolved the organization. Pol Pot died on 15 April, 1998, having never been put on trial.


~ by The Piersas on November 15, 2008.

2 Responses to “Phnom Penh and some Khmer Rouge history”

  1. Renee and Vince, I just want to thank you for documenting your journey and sharing your adventures with us. I have learned so much through your eyes and enjoyed my “virtual trip”. Your infusion of humor, perspective and voice have been thought-provoking as well as entertaining. Safe travels home.


  2. How old are those children that were taught to torture? I wonder if they in their adult lives will turn around and do something twisted with the techniques they learned as children. That’s incredibly sad — thank you for writing this about that very difficult time in Cambodia’s history.

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