Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Killing fields, supporting lifes

On April 17 1975 the Khmer rouge took Phnom Penh and proclaimed it year zero. Led by Saloth Sar, better known as Pol Pot a.k.a. Brother number one, the Khmer rouge renamed Cambodia to “Democratic Kampuchea” and transformed the country into a land of farmers. Within a few days the inhabitants of Phnom Penh and other cities were deported to the countryside and forced to work on the fields for more than 12 hours per day. Intellectuals were the enemy of the state. Wearing glasses, being able to speak a foreign language or having soft hands was reason enough to be arrested and detained, no need to mention being a doctor, an engineer, a buddhist monk or a teacher...
Detention centres were set up throughout the country. One of the biggest, the former Tuol Svay Prey high school, was transformed into S-21 (Security Office 21), which today hosts the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. The former classrooms of the four buildings A, B, C and D were transformed into torture chambers and holding cells , building A being reserved for those cadres of the Khmer rouge who were suspected to plan an uprising against Pol Pot.


S-21 Prison cells

holding cell in S-21

The sign says that you're not supposed to laugh in S-21. There's nothing to laugh about here, really...

S-21 buildings

Victims of S-21

In early 1979 the Vietnamese army liberated Phnom Penh and found only seven prisoners still alive at S-21. Two of them are still living today. They returned to S-21 to tell their stories.

One of the two survivors of S-21 who is still alive today
Those who confessed under torture to crimes they did not commit in S-21 were taken to the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek, outside of Phnom Penh, which were just that: Killing fields. Taken off the trucks that brought the victims there they were clubbed to death to the soundtrack of a diesel generator and a P.A. playing propaganda songs of the Khmer rouge. Bullets were too expensive and not available.

the killing tree

Killing fields

The killing fields of Choeung Ek

The shocking thing is that even after the Vietnamese conquered Cambodia, the UN still accepted the Khmer Rouge as the official government of Cambodia for a few years to come. And even though there is now a UN trial things are moving slowly, very slowly. The UN trial has been going on for years now and only one sentence has been passed. The current Cambodian government is still blocking further trials against former Khmer rouge members. Some may still be part of the current regime...

Want to make a change and help someone to live a better life? Love good food? Like shopping? It's as easy as that:

Friends International is running two restaurants in Phnom Penh where street kids are taught how to become a chef, a waiter or work in the service industry.

Daughters of Cambodia is an organization that helps girls that have been trafficked to exit the sex industry and supports them in finding alternative ways to live a self-sustained life by teaching them sewing, clothes design, photography, jewellery crafting etc. They are also running a cafe called “sugar and spice” where the girls are learning cooking, baking and working in the restaurant industry. Additionally daughters of Cambodia provides them with medical and counseling services to give them the pride and confidence back that they lost and helps them to lead a healthy and safe life. They run a shop in Phnom Penh where their clothes, arts and crafts are sold, really cool designs and very different from all the fake copies found anywhere else in the capital. Worth having a look and making a change in somebody’s life.

Watch this video to learn more about the amazing job that they are doing.

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