Henri Locard, an academic from the Université Lumière Lyon 2 in France,
has conducted research on the Khmer Rouge prison system during their years in
power. During four trips to Cambodia between 1991 and 1995 he visited
approximately 100 former prisons in every province in Cambodia except Preah
Vihear and interviewed about 400 witnesses including "base people" who lived
near the prisons, ex-prisoners and ex-Khmer Rouge who were part of the prison
bureaucracy. This article is excerpted from a longer paper delivered at a
conference in Paris earlier this year.
IN the introduction to his
biography of Pol Pot, Brother Number One, David Chandler noted that "In a sense,
what happened in Cambodia, although more intense, was standard operating
procedure in countries whose politics Pol Pot admired."
I should wish to
somewhat change the perspective of this proposition: "although much of what
happed in Cambodia under Pol Pot was modelled on the countries whose politics he
admired, it took an intensity that was not standard procedure in other Communist
regimes, but was distinctly more repressive and murderous."
"standard operating procedure" in other Communist countries to brutally empty
every single town and rusticate some 50 percent of the population? To
collectivize not only all property, but almost all personal belongings,
including cooking utensils, and to abolish money? To engineer the strictest
control of food - causing unprecedented starvation in a counrtry where food
would soon be plentiful? To abolish overnight all standard methods of education
and eradicate every manifestation of religion, from Buddhism to the ancient
worships of ethnic minorities of the Northeast, together with all traditional
feast and ceremonies? To herd the entire population - again, even ethnic
minorities of the Northeast whose ways of life had hardly changed in the past
2,000 years - into people's communes that operated more like concentration
camps? To not only "crush to bits" all real or imagined "enemies" of the
Revolutionary State, but probably as much as a quarter of the population, in
only three years, eight months and 20 days? Finally to establish throughout the
country prison-extermination centres - about which so little is known, or can be
known, simply because most prisoners were exterminated - this being totally
outside any form of legal system?
It is well-known that people died
either of starvation, disease and overwork, or summary executions. The third
mode of liquidation is less well-documented, although it seems on a more massive
scale: the prison-torture and extermination centre.
From the fatal period
between April 17, 1975 to January 7, 1979, practically the entire Khmer
population had become political prisoners of the ominous Angkar.
the Organization, invisible and ubiquitous like a god - Pol Pot's (Bong Thom or
"Big Brother", as he was referred to in the "Inner Party") most brilliant
The Cambodians lost all civil liberties: overnight there was
no law. In the collectives, in the re-education camps, on all the great
worksites and on all "fronts" of production, men at arms - quite often
adolescents - treated the population like convicts.
It is no less
well-known that in Tuol Sleng - called S21 (S for Santesokh or Security) in Pol
Pot's days - Phnom Penh's sinister execution centre, more than 20,000 victims
were liquidated after written confessions had been extorted under the fiercest
tortures. It was mainly the centre for cadres of the regime or "criminals"
guilty of "heavy" political faults.
But what is less well-known is that
Tuol Sleng was only the apex of the pyramid, the nerve centre of a sophisticated
network of jails that enmeshed the entire territory.
S21 might have been
the most barbaric prison but it was, alas, neither the largest, nor the one
where the greatest number of victims were executed.
A few srok (district)
or dambon (zone) jails were bigger and were used as mass execution centres.
Perhaps up to 30 or 40,000 people might have been put to death on the same spot,
in the course of that fearful regime.
The following short survey is based
on the published life stories of Khmers who had lived under the Khmer Rouge, on
the analysis of contemporary official documents and radio programmes, but above
all, on the interrogation of hundreds of ex-victims throughout
These however are only first tentative conclusions, since
available Khmer Rouge written archives are so few. We know that the invading
Vietnamese army, shortly after their takeover of the Cambodian capital, on
January 7, 1979, shipped off most government archives to Hanoi.
these are returned to Phnom Penh or made available to researchers, conclusions
as to the methods and the responsibilities of the genocide are incomplete.
Besides, because of the presence throughout Cambodia (during the KR period) of
numerous Chinese experts and the close-knit relationships between the leaders of
both revolutions, it is not until State archives in Beijing are also accessible
that the wider story of those baleful years will be fully
Finally, I have not been able to collect much information on
the exact role of North Koreans in Democratic Kampuchea.
The Prisons Extension of the system
Contrary to what most people have
been led to believe, the normal form of the Polpotian repression was not summary
execution, but the arrest and processing of the suspects through a secret but
extensive prison network.
In a striking scene of the film, The Killing
Fields, we see a few chained prisoners driven past the camera before members
of the collective, then we hear the reports of guns. I am not saying that such
scenes never took place in Pol Pot's Cambodia - there were a number of public
executions, some of them paticularly gruesome - but they were the exception
rather than the norm.
Many witnesses claim they never saw anyone
executed before their eyes.
This must be quite true.
executions are said to have been so widespread, it is because institutions such
as prisons were extremely secret. Therefore when people were arrested at night,
it was automatically assumed they were immediately finished off. Besides,
officials of the regime, in particular after its fall in 1979, denied there was
any genocide on their part. If some people vanished, it was because overzealous,
petty local cadres had given vent to revenge after years of suffering in the
Besides, for the Khmer Rouge leadership most casualties were
ascribed to American bombing. The figure of 600,000 dead (with as many injured)
was first written in chalk by Pol Pot himself on the blackboard of the large
lecture hall of the Phnom Penh Institute of Technology during a meeting of
representatives of Angkar from all the districts in early June 1975. (The figure
came completely out the blue, but has been repeated by most analysts in later
As the regime developed its repression, so did Pol Pot's
rhetoric: by 1978, the figure had grown to "800,000 killed, and more than
240,000 others maimed" adding that this represented 12 percent of the
population. The same Pol Pot, in an interview with a journalist from Swedish
Television on August 24 of the same year proclaimed: "In fact, in the 1970-75
war, U.S. imperialism and its lackeys massacred more than 1.4 million
Dr. Marek Sliwinski reckoned that some 240,000
Cambodians were killed during the civil war, and this includes the numerous
civilians and Republican soldiers killed by the revolutionaries themselves. In
other words, the regime did not kill anyone, but its "enemies" did.
leaders also claimed that those responsible for the vast number of deaths
between 1970 and 1980 - the decade being always lumped together - were
Vietnamese infiltrators, apart from the "U.S. imperialism and its lackeys". In
other words Angkar is spotless.
Three main waves of repression
In the course of this very short-lived regime, there were three big waves of
It is well-known that on the victory of the revolutionaries
more representatives of the old governing classes were decimated in the first
few weeks of the regime than in China after Mao's triumph. The crack-down on all
those who could be identified as personalities belonging to the previous
administration - civil or military (even in the East Zone) along with their
families for the most prominent figures, was ruthless: all army officers and all
heads of department in the civil service - national or local, along with their
This first purge was almost entirely outside the prison system
proper: victims were massacred, rarely witnessed, but normally secretly on the
outskirts of villages or in nearby forests. All this is
Then in the latter part of 1975 and early 1976, thanks
to denunciations or the candid confessions of interested parties themselves,
remaining Republican military personnel, civil servants, professional classes
were singled out for arrest. Once they reached the villages after being driven
from all Cambodian cities, the so-called "new people", or "17th April" had to
write again and again their autobiographies, as Vietminh then Chinese mentors of
the Khmer Rouge must have instructed them. Many were taken to prisons along with
intellectuals and recalcitrant Buddhist monks. This was the second wave, as the
network of prisons (kuk in Khmer, or Munty Santesokh, or Security Office)
was being established throughout the country in the first few months of the
The third wave started in 1976 and swept through all classes of
the new society, not only ex-townsfolk, but also so-called the "base-people"
from the countryside and the Khmer Rouge cadres and military personnel
themselves. All categories of the revolutionary society were soon engulfed in
the maelstrom of repression as the regime got more deranged and saw "enemies",
Definition of the Polpotian prison
Locking up a significant percentage of the population in specific
institutions beyond the people's communes took on an extension unknown in other
Communist countries. Enemies "were never simply arrested and shot :
authorities had first to obtain confessions which would justify their arrest,
and thus confirm the omniscience and justice of Angkar in arresting them,"
as Martin Stuart-Fox and Bunheang Ung rightly explained in Murderous
The rationale of the system was not just to finish off
suspects, but to expose and dismantle so-called khsae, meaning "ropes" or
"plots" of conspirators against Angkar. The accused therefore had to talk, to
speak the whole truth, even if this "truth" had to be invented under torture, or
threat of torture. Victims were usually arrested shortly after nightfall and
often on false pretexts to quell all forms of resistance - "Angkar needs your
services elsewhere ..." They were taken to the local interrogation center
for a coule of days or directly to the district prison.
The Khmer Rouge
prison consists of two distinct elements - both absent from the Nazi
concentration camps, for instance shackles and interrogation, confessions under
torture (or threat of torture).
Although some prisoners were also chained
in Mao's prisons, and the Polpotists must have learnt the technique of the
khnohs (iron rings sliding along iron bars, with a lock at both ends, into which
detainees had to slip their ankles) from the Vietminh, neither China nor Vietnam
used shackles quite so systematically as the Khmer Rouge. The Vietminh used to
tie their prisoners to iron bars too. Prisoners could be brought on foot, two,
three, four or more tied together, accompanied by armed soldiers with bicycles,
by carloads, or packed into jeeps or even Chinese lorries.
the deep of night, the new prisoners were invariably tied to a collective khnoh
holding from four to five to 15-20 victims. If the bar was really long, there
were special holes in the walls to enable it to slide sideways. Not until dawn
could a prisoner distinguish where he or she had been taken to, but often it was
to a pagoda or a school, sometimes a smaller official building or a purpose
built, oblong hut.
Except when taken away for interrogation and
eventually execution, prisoners would not leave the khnohs for the first couple
of months, either for exercise or hygiene. Starvation and disease would then
reduce them to living corpses and take their toll.
The universal diet was
bâbâ riov, very clear watery rice, two servings a day. Some died in the night
and their corpses removed in the morning. A few became "free prisoners", that is
free to do hard labour in the day time, while often returning to their shackles
in the night, or taken to another building where prisoners were no longer
The purpose of imprisonment was twofold: first, as in Maoist China,
to obtain confessions to crimes and submission to Angkar; secondly, the betrayal
of everyone with whom the accused had been associated.
Yet there were two
major differences between the Chinese model and Polpotist policy: a
significantly higher proportion of the population in Cambodia was put in jail,
and the turnover and death rate was also much higher, for the very simple reason
that most detainees died within three months.
Few were detained for a
year or longer. The percentage of liberations, which could be 20 to 30 percent
in the smaller prisons, was reduced to nothing in Tuol Sleng: the higher a
prison was situated in the hierarchy of goals, the less likely were the inmates
The proportions between the living and the dead in China or
Vietnam were, I believe, the reverse. In theory however, the Polpotian prison
follows the Maoist pattern of reform of the minds (xuexi) of all the "enemies of
the revolution", followed by reform by hard labour (laogai). The Maoist xuexi,
"study", has been literally translated by the Polpotists as rien saut, "study
session" or Kâsang khluon "re-construction of the self".
Domenach clearly explains in his study of Mao's Gulag, "... each 'criminal' is a
student who is taught the 'theory' that will enable him to 'grasp' the full
extent of his guilt and to construct a new 'world view'. Xuexi comprises two
things: theoretical study itself, and training to acquire the right 'frame of
That was what Khmer Rouge leaders were probably taught by their
Maoist mentors in Peking or in Phnom Penh. Unfortunately for the Khmers, those
in charge of implementing this model were so ignorant, sometimes even
illiterate, that the Maoist understudies were quite unable to perform the
essentially intellecual and bureaucratic task of sorting out, going through and
investigating scores, hundreds or even thousands of life-stories or
In the prevailing atmosphere of revolutionary
fervour - the "Super Great Leap Forward" together with the Cultural Revolution
at one and the same time - and even terror, there was no time for the subtle
re-moulding of the mind and other Maoist niceties.
did not really believe that "the New People" were really amenable to reform.
The pattern was so erratically applied that it ran amok and transformed
itself into an enormous killing machine that was continuously gaining impetus,
until it raced out of all control in the last days of the regime.
the inhabitants of Pol Pot's Cambodia, the fateful rien saut would be synonymous
with death, since it was the routine euphemism for liquidation. This was not
necessarily so, for some were liberated, but often not sent back to their
In fact, there was no real re-education in Pol
Pot's prisons: no party documents were ever passed round. What was demanded was
utter submission to the will of the authorities, complete debasement in front of
Angkar and admission to one's guilt. The instrument was sheer terror, preceded
by very little coaxing. The method was again the Maoist one: self-accusation in
the provoatterup, that is personal life-stories or confessions. The endless
writing of one's life-story had started in the first few weeks of the regime.
Endless, because, as in Ho Chi Minh's Vietnam, the so-called "New People" or
people who had not rallied to the revolution before the victory, and therefore
were by definition suspect, had to write and re-write an indeterminate number of
times their autobiographies in the collectives. These were checked and
investigations could lead to more arrests, and this is how the vicious circle of
confessions and executions snowballed from the smallest prison in the
countryside to Tuol Sleng in Phnom Penh. Victims there had to give names and
confess that they had been plotting with the aid of foreign secret services -
the CIA or the KGB, or both at the same time - or to Khmer opponents on the Thai
border, and more and more with the hated Vietnamese.
The use of violence
and torture could vary and in the provincial prisons, the accused did not
usually write new life stories, but answered questions.
In the small
prisons, the interrogator also took notes, and would rise to hit (or threaten to
hit) the accused, squatting in front of him, with his arms tied behind his back.
In the larger prisons, summaries would be made, and at least two soldiers in
charge of tortures. In the main prisons, three typed summaries would be made -
two for Angkar Lœu (the Organization up above) and one to be kept in the prison
archives. Angkar Lœu took the decision of liberation, change of regime, transfer
In Pol Pot's Kampuchea, no-one was ever read an act of
accusation; the first question any detainee would always be asked was: "Tell us
why you are here ?" If one was detained it was assumed that one had committed
crimes against Angkar, and interrogators could never nurse doubts about the
validity of Angkar's decisions. Once all information had been extracted, the
accused could be liquidated. Apart from the very, very few who were actually
able to run away (in which case all those near the fugitive(s) were massacred),
only two categories escaped death: totally ingenuous prisoners who strenuously
denied any involvement in any rebellious plot and after investigations in their
collective, and those ingenious enough to perform a technical task of use to
The average Khmer Rouge prison was composed of several
buildings - often some for men and some for women and children, or some for
"heavy" prisoners, or some for "light" offenders. All men were shackled, but
women sometimes were not, while children never were. One can assume terror
riveted them to the spot. Children and adolescents could be rounded up in
special detention centres, like the prison for children from ten to 15 at Anlong
Veng, Andong Toeuk district, Koh Kong province. One very specific characteristic
of the Polpotian prison was that entire families were put in prison, even
pregnant women who gave births to babies that would soon die of starvation:
"When you pull out weeds, you must extirpate all its roots", a Khmer Rouge
Sickly and starving children, hanging around their chained
parents must have been one of the most dismal sights of those dens of horror.
They would be continuously moaning for more food in front of helpless parents.
Sometimes they were just left behind, after their parents had been executed, to
pass round the sanitary tin or the loathsome bâbâ at meal times.
was always one interrogation center, usually some distance away to deaden the
shrieks of victims. There was of course one kitchen, one or several lodgings for
the military. Often - particularly in the precincts of pagodas - there were a
couple of small and often darker cells for very "heavy" faults. If inmates
graduated into the category of "free" prisoners, they would have to work hard in
the daytime. They were not always shackled at night. Only those who had to
perform technical tasks would receive special treatment, like extra food but
then they could stay an indeterminate number of months or even years in the same
prison, as they had become indispensable to the running of the
Among scores of prisons, we can take the example of Tuol
Marénh, in Kompong Trabek district, which was the main prison of zone 24 in Prey
It is now an empty small plateau in the middle of
rice-fields. All that remains today (June 1994) is a soil strewn with tiny bits
of bones (most have been eaten by cows or dogs), numerous teeth, and infinite
number of shreds of nylon cloth, the remains of the victims' clothes-and one big
lone iron khnoh.
There were six wooden buildings there in Pol Pot's days
- five for men and one for women. The number of prisoners was five to 700.
According to P.S. (born 1950), who spent a whole year there from June 1976, the
number of citizens brought to the prison kept rising, from some 30 a week to
The total of people executed exceeded 10,000, since several
thousands were killed each year, before the wholesale massacres of 1978 in the
There were three ways of dying in the Khmer Rouge prisons: firstly during
interrogation, or immediately after; secondly in the khnohs, usually after a
certain number of weeks, mainly from starvation; thirdly, at regular intervals,
prison officials would come in with lists of inmates marked for execution.
Often, a large number of prisoners were executed when the prison was
full and space had to be provided for new captives, brought sometimes in
carloads by Chinese Zil lorries.
The executions and disposal of corpses
usually took place very close to the prison.
The Khmer Rouge's favourite
mode of execution - both expeditious and ammunition-saving - was to bring the
victim, blindfolded, with his hands tied behind his back to the brink of a pit
or a ditch. He then had to squat, bend his head and he was battered to death
with a pickaxe, a hoe, or any stick on the nape of the neck.
If the jail
was close to a river or a lake, bodies could simply be flung into the water, as
in the islands along the Mekong or by Tonle Bati lake. Bodies would fall into
pits of all sizes; some could be quite deep and wide, often dug by the victims
themselves. Sometimes, there were nothing but a series of individual graves.
Often corpses were carefully put at the foot of fruit trees, for the
Khmer Rouge claimed their "enemies" could be put to good use even after death.
They considered the human body as such a perfect fertilizer as to be left to
decompose in paddy-fields. For instance, in Mong Russey district, Russey Krang
commune, at a place called Munty Kuk 32, or "prison-office 32", there were
thousands of deportees in the area, from Phnom Penh, and later from Prey Veng
and Svay Rieng provinces. During the 1978 rainy seasons, so many had been killed
and put in the paddy fields, that seedlings were planted out among human remains
covering several hectares. The yield was higher in those four to five hectares
of burial ground.
Wherever mass graves have been discovered after 1979,
particularly around pagodas, one can be certain there was a sizeable district
The inconvenience was that some victims were not dead, but
had fainted or fallen into a coma when they were interred. The number of people
buried alive must have been horrendous. I have found several witnesses who were
"raised from the dead", waking up the next morning and extracting themselves
from corpses, when they were put at the top of the mass grave. I think in
particular of two women at Phnom Basset, north of Phnom Penh, who, in the
glimmer of dawn, hailed each other by the name of "Ghosts!", each imploring the
other to cease haunting these dismal fields. How many were stiffled to death
underground? In Sisophon, those put to death were so innumerable, that, on one
occasion, bulldozers, I was told (but was this progaganda of the Heng Samrin
regime?) were used simultaneously to bury them.
At Kralanh, once all the
vast mass graves had been filled several times, it was decided to add paddy
husk, and to burn bodies in three pits continuously operating in rotation. A
large plank was thrown across the pit: the victims fell directly on the corpses
when they were hit to death on the nape of the neck. Pits were extinguished in
turns and carefully emptied of all the ashes to be scattered in the nearby paddy
fields. It was in those regions, where the citizens of Phnom Penh had been
deported en masse, that wholesale executions on the largest scale took place -
perhaps up to 30 to 40,000 victims on the same spot. On the way to Pailin, near
Battambang, stands Phnom Sampov, a sacred chalk hill sheer above the plain,
famous for its caves where hermits lived: there, the sacrilegious folly of the
Khmer Rouge reached to peak.
Driven out of a nearby prison, detainees, always with their hands tied behind
their backs, were made to climb up hundreds of steps leading up to an unfinished
sanctuary. There, at the top of the hill, before a vast expanse of land, they
were immolated to Angkar - the latter day Moloch. Four executioners held each
victim by one limb, his face turned towards the soil, while a fifth would cut
his throat to collect his blood in a waterproof tank. While attempting to leap
towards the utopian society of the future, the Polpotists merely rediscovered
the horrors of past ages long ago. No-one could tell me what those immolators
did with the precious liquid thus collected.
One final disturbing
observation is that, since the introduction of Hinduism and Buddhism in the
early part of our millenium, the Khmers had made it their habit to incinerate
their dead. The Polpotists had no time for funeral rituals at all and usually
laid their victims in shallow graves precisely as is still the habit of
non-Indianized ethnic minorities of the distant periphery.
The geography of the prison network
Contrary to my expectation (having read so much about regional variations),
and again apart from the Northeast, I found that a closely interconnected
three-tier prison network crisscrossed and enmeshed the entire
There was first an infinite number of smaller detention
centers at the level of the khum, or commune, some the equvalent of our police
stations, where suspects were detained and interrogated for a short period of
Others could be purpose-built rectangular huts for a few scores of
inmates. The khnohs were often of wood or a combination of wood and iron; the
very existence of these institutions could be temporary: at one stage, all
detainees could be liberated, and the prison closed.
The next tier is the
district. There was at least one in each of the some 150 districts or so of the
country. These institutions were permanent and had been established everywhere
in the early months of the regime, while others had been opened from 1972-73 in
the areas controlled by the revolutionaries. The inmates were usually numbered
in the hundreds, up to around one thousand.
Many more populated
districts, as in Svay Rieng, Kompong Thom or Takeo provinces, for instance, had
up to two or three and even four prisons per district. These were often in
pagodas or sometimes in schools, with obstructed windows; but, if prisons were
further away from inhabited areas, they could be vast purpose-built structures
in wood and cane, containing several buildings on the verge of the
The third kind of prison was the zone prison - there were some
thirty zones under the KR, provinces having disappeared from their
administrative reorganization of the territory. In both the district and zone
prisons, KR civilian and military cadres themselves became more and more
numerous. For instance, Munty Sang (an ex-teachers Training College offered by
the USA), was the prison of zone 15, near Tonle Bati, not far from the capital.
The number of inmates could easily have reached one thousand, so numerous were
the classrooms that were then in use. Windows of this striking star-shaped
building had been blocked as in Tuol Sleng.
These prisons could be in the
towns. Paradoxically, the old colonial French prisons were often not used (is it
because officially there were no prisons in Democratic Kampuchea?), as in the
very heart of Phnom Penh the structure called T3 in the Heng Samrin regime. In
Sisophon, there was a prison for cadres in a modest administrative building, in
Prey Veng, the cadres prison was in the old Court House. In the same city, the
team of blacksmiths would spend a couple of days each month to make khnohs - a
sure sign they were produced quite massively, and identical in all
In Kompong Thom town, the old prison was used for a mixed
assortment of people whose arms were also tied, and the rattle of chains could
be heard in the vicinity. Many starved to death, while others were executed
In Siem Reap city too, the old colonial prison was also
used in Pol Pot days, for cadres and ordinary citizens. The major difference
from earlier days was that the number of inmates was multiplied by up to ten.
For instance, in the individual cells meant for a few prisoners, up to 30 people
could be crammed. But district prisons, from 1976 especially, also contained
more and more Khmer Rouge - civilian and military - and the two systems were
Finally, I never came across a zone without a major
prison: in Ratanakiri, for instance, it was situated behind the hospital in
Banlung, now the provincial capital. The ruins of Lomphat, along the Srepok,
after the civil war, were razed by the KR, so was Voeunsai, along the
These various establishments formed a close network, and detainees
could be moved from one tier to another. Most of the time you were transferred
from one so-called "light" local prison, to a district prison, and then to the
higher or "heavier" prison, sometimes to the capital, if you were regarded as a
More rarely, with ups and downs, you could progess,
not towards death, but in stages to your liberation.
We can take the
example of B.C, a Prou from Ratanakiri, who had joined the revolutionary
movement in the sixties when he was at first a messenger. During the civil war,
he joined battalion 512 formed exclusively of ethnic minorities, which operated
on the northern border near Preah Vihear. He took part in the storming of Phnom
Penh, and was soon sent back to Preah Vihear, where a Lon Nol garrison resisted
for a short time after April 17. Later, he became an official in zone 103
covering Preah Vihear province. In Janaury 1978, all the officials of the zone
were summoned to a meeting in Rovieng, the zone capital. Twenty-six of them were
arrested in the local school and driven to Siem Reap prison in a Chinese lorry,
where B.C. stayed till November. All members of battalion 512 were taken to Tuol
Sleng at the time, he claimed. He was accused of collaborating with the
Vietnamese. He said in his defense that, in 1970, Pol Pot himself and his team
were protected by some 30 Vietnamese. Besides, he had worked for the liberation
of five provinces and the capital. In November, he was part of a group of some
100 people, along with his wife and children, taken by boat to Phnom Penh on the
Tonle Sap. Landing in front of the Royal Palace, he heard S21 was too
overcrowded, and two coaches drove them to Takhmau Lycée, where they stayed one
week, then to a pagoda in Kompong Kantuot, 24 km south of Phnom Penh, where he
and his family survived till the end of the regime. With this instance we also
notice that a number of public buildings were temporarily used to store
prisoners, when prisons proper did not "process" them fast enough. The ex-French
Lycée Descartes is said to have been used in this.
I am not in a position to come up with even approximate figures about the
number of victims of the Khmer Rouge prison system. All one can tentatively put
forward, with some degree of certainty, is that the number must have been very
Chandler prudently states that the number of victims "in
less than fours years, [is] more than one million[...] At least 100,000, and
probably more, were executed for crimes against the state". This figure of
course includes summary executions, so numerous in the early days of the
Just as Dr. Marek Sliwinski has demonstrated quite convincingly
that around two million perished, including about 42 percent of the population
of Phnom Penh in those fateful years, I believe that David Chandler's figure of
specifically political violent killings - summary executions, and deaths meted
out in the prisons - to be much higher. A reasonable assessment would be in the
region of 400,000 to 600,000 victims. But, considering the vast amount of
evidence that can be accumulated from on-the-spot visits of ex-detention centers
and mass graves, from the testimony of many witnesses and survivors, from
looking at Khmer Rouge literature and ideology, it is not unimaginable that the
figure could be even higher.
There was one major prison in each the 30
zones plus one to four in each of the about 150 districts. In all these prisons,
the dead must be counted by the thousands, rather than by the
This is irrespective of the innumerable smaller detention
centers and police stations at the commune levels, where detainees also
Demonstrating that a vast proportion - perhaps as much as one third
- of the Cambodia population that died under the Khmer Rouge was exterminated
inside prison-extermination centres matters for three main reasons:
- First, the victims of the genocide must have been significantly more
numerous than the one million figure which is usually quoted, but comes nearer
to two million -that is not one in seven inhabitants who died, but one in four
which changes the magnitude of the genocide. As in Hitler's Germany,
exterminations were massive.
- Secondly, it is definitely more barbarous to torment someone for
weeks or months until he or she dies in shackles, after having submitted them to
cruel interrogation sessions and very often most savage tortures, and slowly
reducing them by starvation to a living skeleton, than finishing them off
secretly at night, as too many have been led to believe.
- Third, and most importantly, the Khmer Rouge leadership are
definitely lying when they claim killings - if any - were initiated by vengeful
No. As always in Pol Pot's Cambodia, every revolutionary had to submit most
obediently to the orders from the Centre, and these orders were increasingly to
launch the fiercest of attacks against "enemies" khmang, portrayed in the
official propaganda as subhuman fiends who must be annihilated to the last...
thousands, upon thousands, upon thousands of innocent victims of Pol Pot's
political purification campaigns. Submission to the Angkar -Party was the
key precept, and all youthful executioners were programmed to obey
For the Khmer Rouge leadership human lives had no more value
than atoms floating in outer space.
Like the raving gurus of a sect, they
were seized with milenarian fervour, and had lost all sense of reality, let
"We liberated our country from slavery on 17 April
1975.[...] We are doing this for the defense of Democratic Kampuchea, the
Cambodia workers and cooperative peasants in the coming decade, century,
millennium, the next 10,000 years and forever ...", Nuon Chea, chairman of the
Cambodian People's Representative Assembly and acting Prime Minister, proclaimed
at a 16th January 1977 mass rally in Phnom Penh, marking the ninth anniversary
of the Cambodian Revolutionary Army.
Man is probably the only living
creature able to deny the very existence of reality - is this the price of his