This photo was taken at one of the 129 mass graves found at the Choeung Ek Genocidal Centre, more commonly known as the Killing Fields. The colourful bracelets have been tied on the fences surrounding the graves by visitors as a sign of respect and recognition of the 20,000 people murdered at the site, and the further 3 million killed throughout the Khmer Rouge regime (1975-1979). The site was a major extension of the notorious S-21 prison where detainees were tortured until they confessed to crimes such as wearing jewellery, being educated, engaging in sexual activity, not working hard enough and having soft hands. Prisoners who confessed (many of whom were innocent, driven to confession) were taken to the killing fields to be executed. At the height of the regime, the killing fields had up to 300 prisoners arriving each day.
Today, the fields have been transformed into a place of quiet reflection. The fields themselves are quite beautiful and teeming with new life. Blossoming flowers grow along the sides of excavated graves and butterflies dance along paths where holding cells and weapon sheds once stood. On entry, all guests are given an audio-tour kit which offers a comprehensive walk through read by Ros Kosal, a Cambodian survivor of Khmer Rouge regime. Kosal’s description of the events that took place on the Killing Fields is, at times, deeply chilling. However, the tone of the tour is far from bleak, maintaining a poignant message of growth, healing and peace.
I highly recommend a visit to the Killing Fields to anyone visiting Cambodia. The horrific acts of the Khmer Rouge are largely unknown to the western world, yet are by far one of the most devastating acts of genocide in history. Choeung Ek Genocidal Centre is more than a memorial, it is an important step for the Cambodian people who heal by sharing their ordeal with the world that never knew.