Social Whisper

S21 & The Killing Fields

Posted on: March 17, 2009

In April 1975 Pol Pot’s regime the Khmer Rouge defeated the Lon Nol government and took power. During the previous years Cambodia had been dragged into the Vietnam War as the North Vietnamese Army extended the Ho Chi Minh trail into Cambodia and trained a guerrilla group called the Khmer Rouge to help them.

Initially some of the Cambodian people were happy when the Khmer Rouge took power as they thought this would mean the end of the war, but this quickly changed as over the 3 years, 8 months, and 20 days the Khmer Rouge were in power they destroyed the country and killed nearly a third of the population.

Their communist regime destroyed everything from religion, to culture and families, while systematically torturing and killing innocent people who they thought might rise up against them, for example  anyone with an education as well as all of their family.

The largest and most well known of these torture camps is S21. S21 was initially a primary school which was converted into a torture camp and detention centre when the Khmer Rouge took control.


Initially the innocent look of the buildings betray the horrific events that took place here.

This was one of the rooms as it is today:

S21 cell

and how it was found when the Khmer rouge were defeated:

S21 cell 1979

What was also quite disturbing was that many of the soldiers that the Khmer Rouge recruited were children, as they realised that they were easier to manipulate and control.

Khmer Rouge Soliders

From S21 we went on to the Killing fields where the prisoners were taken after they were tortured.

The Killing Fields near S21 are the most well known but are one of 343 killing sites and 19,440 mass graves across the country.

The Killing Fields

Prisoners were often made to dig their own grave and asked ‘How deep do you like it’. Then to save on bullets they were then blindfolded and clubbed to death with bamboo.

Children were often killed by being picked up by their ankles and swung against this tree known as the killing tree.

Killing Tree

All of the skulls have been removed and kept in a memorial. Although the bones remain in the ground and in the rainy season they poke out the ground, which I’m glad we didnt see.

Kolling Fields Memorial

Many of the goverment today are former memembers of the Khmer Rouge and it is still a crime to say anything against them. There are also people listening to conversations and so the people always have to be careful about what they say.

Many people wanted revenge once the Khmer were defeated but so they could have peace after years of war and because of their religion they have learnt to live with the people that were previously part of the Khmer Rouge that live amoungst them today, demonstrating how amazing these people are.


1 Response to "S21 & The Killing Fields"

I’m a graphic designer from Poland. May I ask You about permission to

use one of Yours photo (young soldiers with guns) to make cover book “Fields of death”? It’s about

Cambodia’s war. Let me know, if You would get it. That would be very

kind of You.
with greetings Radek

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