“THIRTY days a month, even on Saturdays and Sundays, I come here to talk to the world, and to the next generation, about living in the S-21 prison,” says Chum Mei, a former inmate of S-21, now known as the Tuol Sleng Museum.
Chum Mei, 80, believes it is vital for tourists to visit the museum to understand the tragedy of what happened during the three years, eight months and 20 days of the Khmer Rouge regime.
Security Office 21 of Democratic Kampuchea was created on the orders of Pol Pot on April 17, 1975. Commonly known as S-21, it was designed for the detention, interrogation, inhuman torture and eventual killing of its inmates after they had confessed.
The former classrooms of a high school were turned into tiny, 0.8 metres by two metres cells caging individual prisoners. The fronts of the buildings were covered with barbed wire to prevent prisoners leaping to their death.
The museum was opened on August 19, 1979, when the Kampuchea People’s Tribunal began the prosecution of Democratic Kampuchea leaders such as Pol Pot, Ieng Sary, Khiev Samphorn, Ieng Thearith and Kang Gech Ieve.
“We have to broadcast widely to everyone in the world in order to avoid such things happening again and not to repeat what Pol Pot did,” Chum Mei says.
When he was detained in S-21, Chum Mei wasn’t allowed to speak to other prisoners. He simply waited for death to come.
Now he lives to tell tourists about what life was like in a Khmer Rouge death camp.