In only very recent history, the Khmer Rouge murdered over 1.7 million Cambodians, a fact that is not mentioned in Cambodian school books. So it’s not surprising that the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Phnom Penh – the Pol Pot regime’s former torture centre S-21* – is mostly visited by tourists. Local people could see these testimonies of horror for free, but they appear to have no interest in this chapter of their history. The reason may be that peaceful coexistence is only possible today if the truth is blanked out as far as possible.
I have visited the prison and so-called Killing Fields on several occasions, often with young Cambodians who were as horrified and distressed by the visits as I and my assistant were.
* S-21 served as the central hub of a vast prison system throughout the country and was used during the period as a secret facility for the detention, interrogation, torture and extermination of those deemed “political enemies” of the regime. Very few inmates were released from the prison between 1975 and 1979. Only twelve former inmates survived the S-21 prison when Phnom Penh was liberated.