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Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Visits Tuol Sleng Detention Camp/Museum in Cambodia

November 1, 2010

Secretary Clinton visited the notorious Tuol Sleng detention camp in Cambodia today.

The prison museum is dedicated to the victims of the brutal Khmer Rouge regime under Pol Pot:

Pol Pot’s secret prison, codenamed “S-21” during his genocidal rule (1975-79). Between 1-2 million Cambodians–and many thousands of foreigners–were starved to death, tortured, or killed, during this reign of terror.

When the Vietnamese Army invaded in 1979 the S-21 prison staff fled, leaving thousands of written and photographic records. Altogether more than 6,000 photographs were left; the majority, however, have been lost or destroyed.

Former prison staff say as many as 30,000 prisoners were held at S-21 before the Khmer Rouge leadership was forced to flee, in the first days of 1979. This website contains most of the photographs that were printed for the book Killing Fields (Twin Palms Press) and for a traveling exhibition, which was on display at the Museum of Modern Art (NYC), as well as many other locations.

Currently the Tuol Sleng Museum of Genocide, which is located within the former prison grounds, has the original negatives and a catalog of all 6,000 remaining negatives. Cornell University also has one of the catalogs, and the DCCam Project has also incorporated scanned versions of the images into their database, as well as Yale University.

Props to Secretary Clinton for visiting the prison and acknowledging this brutal period of recent history:

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed hope Monday for accountability for atrocities committed by the brutal Khmer Rouge regime during an emotional visit to Cambodia’s genocide museum.

A sombre-looking Clinton, on a two-week Asia trip, studied black-and-white photos of gaunt-faced prisoners on display, along with dozens of skulls of victims and paintings of people being tortured.

She later described the tour of Tuol Sleng — the main torture centre of the Khmer Rouge regime in the late 1970s — as a “very disturbing experience,” but said she was impressed that Cambodia was confronting its dark history.

“Countries that are held prisoner to their past never break those chains and build the kind of future your children deserve,” she told an audience of young Cambodians at a town hall-style meeting in the capital Phnom Penh.

“I was very proud to see firsthand the willingness of your country to face that past bravely and honestly.”

Thousands of inmates were taken from the jail — now a major tourist attraction — for execution in a nearby orchard that served as a “Killing Field”.

Clinton said Cambodia’s UN-backed war crimes tribunal “is bringing some of the people who caused so much suffering to justice … The work of the tribunal is painful but it is necessary to ensure a lasting peace.”

Cambodia is opposing a third trial of regime leaders, but in comments written in the museum guestbook, Clinton appeared to back further Khmer Rouge prosecutions.

“In memory of the tragic suffering of the people of Cambodia and in hope that there will (be) a future of peace, prosperity and greater awareness of all that needs to be done to move the country forward, including trials, accountability and reconciliation,” she wrote.

In July, a UN-backed war crimes court sentenced Tuol Sleng prison chief Kaing Guek Eav, better known as Duch, to 30 years in jail for overseeing the deaths of 15,000 men, women and children in the late 1970s.

Last month the court indicted four top regime leaders for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide in connection with the deaths of up to two million people from starvation, overwork and execution between 1975 and 1979.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen told visiting United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon last week that a third case was “not allowed” because it could plunge the country back into civil war.

The international community keeps saying “never again” but genocide not only keeps occurring, it continues to go largely unpunished.

Here are some photos from Secretary Clinton’s visit to the prison/museum. There are some other photos in the post immediately below this one:

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton visits Tuol Sleng Genorcide Museum (S-21 prison), in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, 01 November 2010

There is a great website which documents photographs from the prison here.

9 Comments leave one →
  1. filipino-american4hrc permalink
    November 1, 2010 2:08 pm

    Thanks for covering this, Stacy. Whatever and however we feel about the Obama administration’s foreign policy, and questions about what Hillary really thinks — such as on the recent move on child soldiers — I think we can safely say that she has remained consistent in shining a light on some of the darkest and most barbaric episodes of post-Cold War history whether as first lady (e.g., Balkans, Rwanda) or SoS (DRC). Looking at the pictures, I can’t help but wonder if her chief Diplomatic Security aide — the Caucasian guy in crew cut with blue tie — is learning anything from his boss with all her unconventional diplomatic forays. Does the emphasis on women and girls rub off on him, or is he just focused on making sure she’s safe and whole while under his care?

    • November 1, 2010 2:19 pm

      Since Hillary became SOS, I too have often noticed her chief security aide in Stacy’s pictures. In the snapshots, he usually appears detached from whatever task the SOS is doing. Today, though he appeared also to be interested inside the museum. Walking through that museum must be a very moving experience…

    • November 1, 2010 4:39 pm

      Yes, she does shine a light on a lot of issues like this in a very personal way. She didn’t need to visit this camp, but she did. She didn’t need to go to the home/center for child victims of sex trafficking yesterday, but she did. It’s why I can’t stand when some of the good ‘ole boys in the beltway foreign policy world diss her a little because she’s not exactly like Kissinger or Baker. Thank God she’s not like Kissinger. But also, it demonstrates that foreign policy is still very much a boy’s club and perhaps they feel threatened by her very appropriate and much-needed focus on women.

  2. Tovah permalink
    November 1, 2010 5:26 pm

    Agreed. She doesn’t have to make these stops but she does and she seems genuinely interested and concerned.

    Thanks to Stacy for the extra links to the photographs of the museum/detention center and some background info. I don’t know a lot about the Kmmer Rouge so thanks for that- it motivated me to do some online research about Pol Pot. I was young when all of that took place and I honestly don’t remember learning much about it in school unfortunately.

  3. Tovah permalink
    November 1, 2010 5:40 pm

    OT- Stacy (or anyone else)- did you see this about Bibi’s coalition possibly falling apart? I’m glad there are some politicians in Israel realize that Bibi is leading Israel down the wrong path:

    I think it’s unacceptable that Bibi has made no secret that he’s hoping that the Dems lose big tomorrow and of course he wants Obama to lose in 2012. Obama has increased economic aid to Israel, increased defense deals, continued to protect Israel diplomatically from any consequences of its behavior and on and on and on and what does Obama, or America in general, get in return? A big f*ck you. That dems in Congress aren’t taking bibi to task over this is incredible.

    • November 1, 2010 6:13 pm

      Hey Tovah- I hadn’t seen that article so thanks for dropping the link here. I agree with everything you said but sadly, when it comes to Israel, it would seem that Democrats in Congress are too afraid of AIPAC and the Israel lobby to speak out against the Likud leader. The NYT has even been noticeably harsher regarding Israel over the past several weeks and they are generally always in the Israel government’s corner, regardless of who controls Israel’s government.

      If you look at Haaretz today some are warning Bibi not to overplay his hand- he did this sort of shady politicking when Bill Clinton was in office and he lost his coalition as a result back then. Interestingly the Israel media comes out and says what no one in the US media can say- Bibi is triangulating using the Israel lobby AND Congress against the POTUS. Talk about chutzpah. I am hoping that strategy backfires- for the best interest of Israel. Anyone who is truly interested in Israel’s long-term security should want the occupation to end but sadly it seems that some who define themselves as “pro-Israel” are more interested in land than peace or security. Doesn’t sound too pro-Israel to me.

  4. Tovah permalink
    November 1, 2010 7:52 pm

    MJ Rosenberg makes an interesting point- most of the “liberal” Democrats (particularly from California and NY) are so rabidly pro-Likud that Obama might actually fare better if the GOP controls the house, at least with respect to Mideast peace. I’m not sure I totally buy that because the lobby has been really pushing GOP, neoconservative candidates but if you look at the article Rosenberg links to it’s truly amazing to hear Ackerman brag about how congressional Jewish Democrats are essentially the pro-Israel gatekeepers and the “go-to” guys for Israeli leaders. Talk about being the living embodiment of a stereotype! As a Jew I’m not sure I like that.

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