This post is a two-part travelogue by the author, based on her visit and personal experiences at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) for the trial of genocide and crime against humanity. This is the Second Part. For the First part, please Click: Portraying the Carnage – Part One

By Naureen Rahim

After Part One…….

Comprising of four separate buildings, this museum was opened to public in 1980. The audio tour in 15 different languages takes the visitor into the horrific incidents occurred here during the Pol Pot regime. As part of the museum activities, some seminars and public programs (testimony from the victims) are also held regularly. The classrooms on the ground and the first floors were pierced and divided into individual cells, whereas the ones on the second floor used for detention. Different cells, instruments of torture, documents, photographs and list of prisoners’ names, their clothes and belongings are showed throughout the museum. At the centre of the museum is the small field with mass graveyard. The first building consisted of 15 cells (1st floor with 10 cells and 2nd& 3rd floor with 5 cells basically used for jailing, interrogating and torturing the high officials. On the top floor of building A were filled with the victims’ testimony and the facts and consequences of those who were being married forcefully during the Pol Pot regime. Mostly of female who narrated their life story, from forced marriage with a sudden shift to unwanted pregnancy and conjugal life, are being recorded here.

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Of those who luckily survived from this torture center, very few could illustrate their survival through autobiographies and now selling their own books at the museum premises.

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Bou Meng, one survivor of S-21 with his own book

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The writer on the left with Chum Mey, one of the survivors in the middle and Dr. Helen Jarvis on the right side

It is estimated that 64 staffs of this prison were executed in Cheoung Ek. The perpetrators and the ones who were associated with the S-21 prison are now on trial. While seeking forgiveness to the Court[1], Duch stated:

“No single image can illustrate my remorse and suffering. I feel so much pain. I will never forget. I always say that a bad decision can lead in the blink of an eye to a lifetime of grief and remorse. I defer to the judgment of this tribunal for the crimes that I have committed. I will not blame my superiors. I will not blame my subordinates. I will not shirk my responsibilities. Although these crimes were committed under the authority of my superiors, they fall within the purview of my own role at S-21. On the ideological and psychological levels, I am responsible. I carried out Part policy and I regret it.”[2][Hence the court sentenced him with life imprisonment which is the capital punishment as per the ECCC’s jurisdiction]

Tuol Sleng and Cheung Ek were designated historic sites, but they are only two out of hundreds of mass graves and prisons uncovered in every province, proof that the same gruesome horror had been a nationwide phenomenon.[3]

 Choeung Ek Genocidal Center

From the S-21 prison, the victims were taken to Choeung Ek, 15km in the South-West to Phnom Penh (District Dangkor, Kandal Province), where the executions were held. This memorial is highly equipped with audio tours with 15 languages, with which the visitors would get to know about the mode of executions, how the bodies were being perished and how many mass graveyards were found here.

A small lake at the end of the memorial, would reflect the existence of its horrific past. This is the place were the dead bodies were thrown away for decomposition. A visitor could slowly walk through the lake side and as per the direction of the audio, he or she would get to know some survivors who could escape from the place. The “Magic Tree” just beside the lake was used to carry the mike from where different songs were being played right when the victims were tortured or raped. As long as the screaming of the victims went louder, the volume of the sound box were switched even louder so that no one could listen to the victims and their cry for help.

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A tree was also used especially to tie up the children and beat them till they breathed last.

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A mass graveyard of 450 victims were found and also another with 100 naked women and children dead bodies were found in this memorial.

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For me, the most interesting part of this genocidal center was to discover the exhibits of the victims belongings that were preserved at one of the tall shaped building at the center of this location. The exhibits mentions the sex, age, the mode of execution of each of the skulls specifically preserved within this tower. Along with that, the belongings of the victims and the weapons used to kill them are also recorded here. The forensic evidence of this memorial seems to be much organized and that must have been greatly used as evidence at the trials in ECCC, that is what I felt.

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Now the photograph below is a rare one where the Liberation Army of the Peoples’ Republic of Kampuchea marches along a road near the Central Market in Phnom Penh in 1979. This market is still the same and carrying the most horrific history of the 20th Century.

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Chatomuk Hall, which is still in use, was the Khmer Rouge headquarters for their National Assembly. In August, 1979, the hall was the site of the Peoples Revolutionary Tribunal, which prosecuted Khmer Rouge leaders Pol Pot and Ieng Sary, sentencing them to death in Abstentia. Today, the building serves as the Chaktomuk Conference Hall.

Very similar to this hall, I found another important place in Cambodia. The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC). Yes, there I come!

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The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC)

The ECCC was set up in 2006 to bring to trial senior leaders and those most responsible for crimes committed during the time of Democratic Kampuchea. This is an ad hoc Cambodian court with international participation. This hybrid court was established by domestic law following a 2003 agreement between the Cambodian government and the United Nations. The court’s personal jurisdiction is limited to the senior leaders of Democratic Kampuchea, and those who are most responsible for the most serious crimes committed during Democratic Kampuchea. The basic judicial process of this court includes the introductory submissions from which a written submission is submitted by the Co-Prosecutors to request for an investigation. Thereafter, the Co-Investigating Judges investigate only facts set out in the above submission. Then the Pre Trial Chamber Hearings begin. After the final submission, the closing order is being made. Then it is continued to the trial chamber and initially the judgment is given in this court. Co-Prosecutors, Defence and Civil parties may appeal the decision of the Trial Chamber to the highest court of appeal, the Supreme Court Chamber.

So far, among the four cases, only one is completed with the conviction of an accused named Duch, former chairman of S-21 prison. He is sentenced with life imprisonment, which is the capital punishment of ECCC. At present, 10 individuals are facing accusation in these 4 cases. Crimes like genocide, crimes against humanity, destruction of cultural properties and crimes against internationally protected people under the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations are being tried as the subject matter of jurisdiction.

Pre Trial Chamber consists of 5 judges, of which 3 are Cambodian nationality and the rest of them are of different nationalities. Trial Chamber is also the same but the Supreme Court Chamber is formed with 7 Judges, of which 4 are Cambodians and 3 are international judges.

I had the opportunity to watch the Duch’s testimony for the Nuon Chea’s trial. Nuon Chea is the former chairman of the Democratic Kampuchea National Assembly and Deputy Secretary of the Communist Party of Kampuchea. He is charged with genocide, crimes against humanity, and murder, torture and religious persecution under the 1956 Cambodian Penal Code. During each of the hearings, the Public Support and Publication section of ECCC offers citizen participation at the court, inviting school going children as court tour, assuring live telecast in radio, television and even in the social networking sites like facebook, so that citizen involvement to the path of justice in Cambodia could be fully ensured. The court itself provides audio interpretation in three languages to the visitors (Khmer, English and French) for prompt accessibility.

Documentation Center of Cambodia (DC-Cam)

The Documentation Center of Cambodia is a hub for various historic documents and research materials on Khmer Rouge regime. Someone interested in Cambodian genocide and the ongoing trials at the ECCC, might take a tour to this place to buy their valuable publications.

Genocidal Sites in Siem Reap

Every single district, sub district and in fact almost every village in Cambodia appears to have some physical evidence of the crimes of the Khmer Rouge.[4] Surprisingly, when I went to Siem Reap province ( takes 6 hours in bus from Phnom Penh), even the tuktuk driver of mine narrated the killing of his grandfather during the Pol Pot regime, just the way he heard from his mother. Even though I went to Siem Reap to visit the greatest attraction in Cambodia, the Angkor Wat, but the scar of Khmer Rouge didnt let me take a small pause even from searching the genocidal facts here. The driver took me to the place where his grandfather was seemed to be taken for execution. Unlike Phnom Penh, Siem Reap is divided into four types of historic sites, the Wats’ which are in nature very ancient and possessed threats of cultural property destructions during the Khmer Rouge, the burials, memorials and prisons. Trapeng Seh, Wat Thomayutt and Tuol Pagoda are three burials which I found while my visit in Siem Reap. These are known to be the burials, where pits and bodies were found. In Tuol Pagoda, 600 bodies were found.

Wat Athekaram, popularly known as Wat Thmei, is a Pagoda where a memorial is established. Around 8000 people were killed and a stupa was formed inside the pagoda to keep the skulls and bones of the victims. In Baray Chaon Dek Pagoda, approximately 15000-20000 bodies were found and this was renovated in 1995.

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War Thmei

Eventually I left from Cambodia on 23rd June, 2016. I wish I had some more time to spend there! Special thanks to Mr. Dim Sovannarom and Dr. Helen Jarvis’s family for such a wonderful hospitality I received.

[1] Case No. 001/18-07/ ECCC/ TC, Judgment, 559, July 26, 2010

[2] Thierry Cruveller, Excerpts from The Master Of Confessions: The Making Of A Khmer Rouge Torturer, Cambodia Law and Policy Journal, Issue 2, July 2014

[3]Tom Fawthrop and Helen Jarvis, Getting Away With Genocide? Elusive Justice and the Khmer Touge Tribunal, Pluto Press, London, 2004

[4]Mapping the Killing Fields of Cambodia 1995-2003, Documentation Center of Cambodia, 26 May, 2003

Naureen Rahim is an M.S.S student at the Department of Criminology, University of Dhaka. Graduated from Faculty of Law, Eastern University. Worked as an Intern at the Center for the Study of Genocide and Justice, Liberation War Museum. Her areas of interest are International Humanitarian Law, International Criminal Law, Forensice Science and Transnational Crime.