Monday, March 12, 2012
Cambodia - THE KILLING FIELDS
I would like to warn everyone before reading any further that the inform and pictures in this posting are quite disturbing so you may want to skip this particular blog. I considered not writing or including pictures of what i saw in Phenom Penh but I feel compelled to share this experience as an example of the kind of horrific atrocities that happen in the world and hopefully with the help of technology we will be aware more quickly and encourage our governments to take action to prevent or stop such barbarous cruel crimes against humanity.
The Killing Fields are a number of sites in Cambodia where large numbers of people were killed and buried by the Khmer Rouge regime, during its rule of the country from 1975 to 1979, immediately after the end of the Cambodian Civil War (1970-1975).
Analysis of 20,000 mass grave sites by the DC-Cam Mapping Program and Yale University indicate at least 1,386,734 victims. Estimates of the total number of deaths resulting from Khmer Rouge policies, including disease and starvation, range from 1.7 to 2.5 million out of a population of around 8 million. In 1979, communist Vietnam invaded Democratic Kampuchea and toppled the Khmer Rouge regime.
Cambodian journalist Dith Pran coined the term 'killing fields' during his escape from the regime. A 1984 film, The Killing Fields, tells the story of Dith Pran, played by another Cambodian survivor Haing S. Ngor, and his journey to escape the death camps.
The Khmer Rouge regime arrested and eventually executed almost everyone suspected of connections with the former government or with foreign governments, as well as professionals and intellectuals. Ethnic Vietnamese, ethnic Thai, ethnic Chinese (except for those already prominent among the Khmer Rouge themselves), ethnic Chams (Muslim Cambodians), Cambodian Christians, and the Buddhist monkhood were the demographic targets of persecution.
Khmer Rouge literally translated as Red Khmers was the name given to the followers of the Communist Party of Kampuchea, who were the ruling party in Cambodia from 1975 to 1979, led by Pol Pot, Nuon Chea, Ieng Sary, Son Sen, and Khieu Samphan.
These leaders were very well educated with university degrees as teachers or professors. Some had studied in Paris and that is where they joined the French communist party.
Upon returning to Cambodia they recruited the poor and uneducated from the villages telling them the reason they were poor was because of the people in the non cambodians in the cities who were wealthy landowners and shopkeepers It is interesting that each of these leaders were from either Vietnamese or Chinese ancestry.
Once in power they immediately disbanded the medical and educational systems as well as denounced any kind of religion.
The site of a once very nice and modern, for its time, primary and high-school in PP was converted into a detention, interrogation, inhuman torture centre where after admitting to crimes they did not do detainees were processed for killing. The centre was called the S.21 prison. I will not go into the details of the torture but after hearing the details I could understand how one would admit to anything. The many photographs, torture tools, films and archives found on this site in 1979 confirm the type of horrific torture that took place.
Once detainees admitted their crimes (mostly against the Pol Pot Regime) and were processed they were taken to the killing fields in truck loads. To mask the screams of the detainees loud music and propaganda played over speakers while the detainees were again tortured and finally killed in the most inhumane ways and placed in mass graves. The Pol Pot Regime murdered entire families including children and babies. They did not want any family members seeking retribution in the future.
When we arrived at the Choeung Ek 'the killing fields' outside PP it was one of the few places where children were not begging or selling trinkets. However there were groups of land-mine victims begging outside the gates.
There are no tour guides on the site and you are issued an audio device for a self guided tour. The audio explanation and tour layout was excellent and done in the most informative and respectful manner. Considering the horrible actions that took place here I was amazed at how beautiful and peaceful it was. Everyone walking the tour was very quiet as they listened to the stories and at times it was difficult to hold back the tears especially when you hear how the children and babies were murdered. At the 129 mass grave areas bone fragments and teeth still occasionally surface.
In 1988 the memorial charnel was built to house the over 8000 skulls found on this site. You are encouraged to take photos throughout the site including the charnel. There are over 300 such killing fields in Cambodia.
When the Vietnamese toppled the Khmer regime in 1979 Pol Pot escaped with his family to Thailand where he lived enjoying his children and grandchildren until the age of 82. The other leaders have not been so lucky - one has been convicted to 35 years in prison. The others were arrested in 2007 and have been detained until their trials began in 2010. Apparently these trials are still in progress and each of the accused has a Cambodian lawyer as well as one from the western world.
I hope you found this information enlightening and will take the opportunity to do some research yourself - after all for most of us this happened in our lifetime.