Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum

Located in the center area of Phnom Penh, just about 3 kilometers south of the Royal Palace, the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum (Prison S21) is one of the most important historical sites in the city, providing the most complete and truthful evidence about the genocidal rule of the Khmer Rouge and is essential for visitors who want to learn deeper about the recent dark page of Cambodian history.

After seizing the power in Cambodia in 1975, the Khmer Rouge chased people out of the city and converted this complex, formerly the Toul Svay high school with five buildings, into prison and named it ‘Security Prison 21’, the largest detaining and torturing center in the country that later known as the most notorious place for cruel activities against the people in Cambodia.

Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum

The whole complex was fenced up with electrified barbed wire, old classrooms were divided into tiny cells in which detainees were held as animals, many of them were shackled on the concrete floor, before they were taken to the interrogating chambers for torturing and forcing to confess the so-called ‘crimes against the revolution’.

From its establishment in 1976 until the Khmer Rouge was overthrown in 1979, there were about 20,000 people brought pass and imprisoned at this security prison. After suffering extreme physical and mental torture, they were then taken to the Choeung Ek extermination camp, which later know as Killing Field, to be executed. Prisoners who died during their captivity here were buried in mass graves right on grounds of the prison. Out of about 20,000 victims brought passed Tuol Sleng, only twelve people survived.

The victims here including government officials and soldiers of the previous regime, those said to have relations with foreigners, academics, monks, and those of their own party who were considered traitors to Angkar, and their family members. There were also about 500 foreign prisoners, none of whom survived.

Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum - Cambodia

The prison and the list of victims including thousands of photos and detailed records about them, how they were tortured and killed, was uncovered after the Khmer Rouge was driven out in 1979. The complex then opened to the public as a historical museum to show to people about crimes of the Khmer Rouge regime.

Along with the Killing Field of Choeung, the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum is now an important educational and memorial site for Cambodians.

Visiting Tuol Sleng can bring distress for many, however, it is essential to understand the dark page of recent Cambodian history under the brutal rule of the Khmer Rouge which still has an impact on modern Cambodia today.

Tuol Sleng sits in the heart of Phnom Penh so, it is a common stop on our Phnom Penh city tours, which also consist of visits to the Royal Palace, the National Museum of Cambodia, and Wat Phnom, and so on.

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