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Former M-13 prison/ Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum (former S-21)/ Choeung Ek Genocidal Centre (former Execution Site of S-21)

Date de soumission : 27/03/2020
Critères: (iii)(iv)(vi)
Catégorie : Culturel
Soumis par :
Permanent Delegation of the Kingdom of Cambodia to UNESCO
État, province ou région :
Phnom Penh (TSGM and Choeung Ek) and Kampong Chhnang (former M-13)
Ref.: 6461
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Description

The Khmer Rouge regime governed Cambodia during Democratic Kampuchea (1975-1979) following a radical ideology - rooted from different communist beliefs and politics - that was put into practice in the entire country over an extremely short period of three years, eight months and twenty days. It is the only regime known to have emptied all cities in their sphere of power within days, forcing their inhabitants to move from their home places and to regroup in agricultural communes - as well as to undertake several subsequent massive population movements, involving also the rural. In a mixture of extreme nationalism and racism they wanted to realize an agrarian-autarkic society by destroying institutions of the former state, including schools, pagodas, industries and factories, killing intellectuals, professionals and monks, forbidding religion and traditions and replacing deep rooted family relations with the anonymous “Angkar” (the Organization). This so-called “Super great leap forward” was one of the most extreme examples of sociological experiment a regime or government ever tried to put in practice. It caused the death of millions inhabitants (around 25-30% of the entire population). The Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum and Choeung Ek Genocidal Center are the only historical sites that have so far been established as museum institutions in Cambodia to represent the crimes of the Khmer Rouge regime, although several smaller local memorials have been established, including the former prison M-13.

The three crime sites (KR prison M-13/ KR “Security Office S-21”/ the Execution Site of S-21 “Choeung Ek”) are strongly linked to each other. In M-13 the later head of S-21, Kaing Guek Ieu, known as Duch, tested methods of interrogation and torture, before he later practiced and further developed them at S-21. After many prisoners were initially killed at S-21, the site Choeung Ek outside of the city was later chosen as a more appropriate site for mass execution. The vast majority of more than 18.000 prisoners of S-21 were killed at Choeung Ek.

As it has been possible until today to safeguard all three sites, they can represent together an escalation of violence, which can help to understand, how happenings like at Choeung Ek were possible. All three sites should be seen together as a single sequence of serial memorial sites for remembering and historical learning. Together they can represent with high authenticity and integrity a chronological chain of extreme mass violence.

M-13: Former early Khmer Rouge Prison and experimental site on detaining, torturing and killing including training of young prison guards by Duch.

M-13 is one of the early prisons which the Khmer Rouge established before they gained control over the entire country in April 1975. Although there were other such prisons around the country, this appears to be the only one that has been identified and converted into a site of remembrance and learning. Although M-13 moved three times in the area, this site in Prei Chrao Village, was its location for the longest period. Duch, the head of M-13, moved to Phnom Penh and was later appointed as head of S-21 (known today as TSGM), and it is unknown whether M-13 continued to be operational 1975-1979. The number of victims of M-13 is unknown too. However, in January 1979 it was abandoned by the retreating Khmer Rouge and since that date was not used anymore and left empty. While nature gradually covered over the most of the former above-ground traces during the past 40 years, no agriculture activities were undertaken here to destroy the underground traces. Furthermore, knowledge about M-13 is still vivid in the surrounding villages.

Additional information:
Name of institution: former M-13 prison
Location: Prei Chrao Village, Kbal Tek Commune, Tek Phos District, Kampong Chhnang province
Size: about 1ha
Historical period of interest: 1971 - 1975
Protected site since: 2019
Under control of: Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts (MoCFA)
Public access: via Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum

Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum: former “Security Office S-21”

The core of S-21 prison was established in two adjacent former schools, built in the 1960s. Although the prison and its related administrative and support department were spread over a significant section of the city area (today known as BKK III), the TSGM site today occupies only the core of the former prison, the main site where the prisoners were brought, photographed, detained, many tortured, interrogated and executed or taken away to be killed at Choeung Ek. Current research estimates that 18.063 men, women and children were detained in S-21. Considering that many more houses in the neighborhood were part of the prison complex (work and accommodation places for the guards and other staff, kitchen, interrogation and torture houses, offices etc.), the museum took the initiative to seek limitation of nearby construction activities. Zones around TSGM have been defined and accorded legal status. (See master plan Phnom Penh 2019)

Additional information:
Name of institution: Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum
Location: Street 113, BKK III, Phnom Penh
Size:     2019: 1,19 ha/ between street 350/320/113/131
Historical period of interest: March 1976 – Jan 1979
Protected site since: Jan 1979 and converted into a museum the same year
UNESCO Memory of the World Register: The archives of TSGM were inscribed on the MoW Asia Pacific Regional Register in 2008 and on the International Register in 2009
Under control of: Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts (MoCFA)
Public access: open to public daily, in 2019: 500.000 visitors per year

Choeung Ek Genocidal Centre: the former Execution Site of S-21

Since 1950s and 60s, Choeung Ek compound was (in part) a Chinese cemetery before it was transformed into the execution site by Khmer Rouge as a part of S-21. Over a period of several years, nearly every night prisoners were taken there by trucks to be killed at Choeung Ek. In 1980, after Democratic Kampuchea was overthrown, the site was discovered and many remains of the victims were exhumed and examined, later to be preserved in a large Buddhist stupa. Thousands of Cambodian people and foreigners daily visit Choeung Ek to see the site and to organize religious ceremonies. It is the main site to celebrate the “Day of remembrance” each year on May 20.

Additional information:
Name of institution: Choeung Ek Genocidal Centre
Location: Phnom Penh (about 17km outside of Phnom Penh)
Size: about 2ha
Historical period of interest: after March 1976 – January 1979
Protected site since: Discovered after Jan. 1979/before Sept.1980, opened as museum on 7 January 1989
Under control of: Municipality of Phnom Penh
Public access: Open to public daily

Justification de la Valeur Universelle Exceptionnelle

The Khmer Rouge regime governed Cambodia during Democratic Kampuchea (1975-1979) following a radical ideology - rooted from different communist beliefs and politics - that was put into practice in the entire country over an extremely short period of three years, eight months and twenty days. It is the only regime known to have emptied all cities in their sphere of power within days, forcing their inhabitants to move from their home places and to regroup in agricultural communes - as well as to undertake several subsequent massive population movements, involving also the rural. In a mixture of extreme nationalism and racism they wanted to realize an agrarian-autarkic society by destroying institutions of the former state, including schools, pagodas, industries and factories, killing intellectuals, professionals and monks, forbidding religion and traditions and replacing deep rooted family relations with the anonymous “Angkar” (the Organization). This so-called “Super great leap forward” was one of the most extreme examples of sociological experiment a regime or government ever tried to put in practice. It caused the death of millions inhabitants (around 25-30% of the entire population). The Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum and Choeung Ek Genocidal Center are the only historical sites that have so far been established as museum institutions in Cambodia to represent the crimes of the Khmer Rouge regime, although several smaller local memorials have been established, including the former prison M-13.

Of particular significance as an extremely rare practice in the world, is this example of a society memorialising crimes committed by its “own” people. In addition to that, the three sites are three out of very few sites of remembrance of mass crimes in a Buddhist society, located in Southeast-Asia.

As all three sites are still existing – former M-13, former S-21 and its former killing site at Choeung E, a serial sequence of sites presents a unique chance to explain how violence can escalate - a process that is represented by the sites, the buildings, the documents, bureaucratic structures, the practice of torture, the killing tools, etc.

Specific Sites

M-13, former early Khmer Rouge Prison (1971-1975): There are very rare cases, where a prison in the countryside (constructed only out of natural material without permanent buildings) has remained with visible traces after nearly 50 years. This site gives the unique chance to show that any prison (like the much better known S-21) has its pre-history, where guards were trained and the head of the prison invented and tested various methods of interrogation, torture and killing.

Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, the former “Security Office S-21” (1976-1979): S-21 was one out of so far identified and documented 196 prisons throughout the country during the Khmer Rouge regime. The particular significance of S-21 and its distinction from the other prisons (some of them of the same size as S-21 and may have had even more victims) was that it was the apex of the nation-wide security system, and that prisoners were sent to S-21 from all around the country under the command of the Central Committee. Furthermore, these prisoners were destined to be killed. With very, very few exceptions nobody was to survive S-21, whose death rate was more than 99%.

As the huge amount of documents produced in the S-21 prison institution (“confessions”, “biographies”, lists, notes, etc.) manifestly represent the ideology and hierarchical decision making process of the Khmer Rouge, the Tuol Sleng Archive’s more than 50.000 documents from S-21 were successfully inscribed into the UNESCO “Memory of the World” International Register in 2009, following inscription on the Asia Pacific Regional Register in 2008. 

“Choeung Ek, the former Execution Site of S-21 (1976? -1978): Choeung Ek is one of thousands of killing sites throughout Cambodia. It was turned into a memorial site (including a small museum) and is the best known and is widely visited, as it was the killing site of S-21. The government (now since over 40 years) has not buried or cremated the remains, which are visible in (a religious building) a stupa - although not in keeping with the religious beliefs and traditions of the Buddhist majority.

Criterion (iii): The three sites are the principal sites in Cambodia, which have been turned into memorial site museums (institutions) to remember the crimes of the “Democratic Kampuchea” regime. As S-21 was unique – being the interrogation and torture site of the Central Committee – it is representing together with Choeung Ek a unique historical site in Cambodia. None of the so far identified 196 prisons had this outstanding importance for the regime and also since its overthrow in 1979 as the principal locations to represent the crimes in total for the overall country. As Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum and Choeung Ek are representing the crimes in total of the Khmer Rouge regime, it is at the same time the place to remember the attempt to kill entire minorities, like the Cham, the ethnic Vietnamese and Chinese inhabitants.

Criterion (iv): The fact that all three sites still exist, are protected and managed by the government give the chance to present them together as an ensemble which illustrates a significant stage of inhuman history. The history of this ensemble marks the outstanding significance. It might not be outstanding, that school buildings are transformed into prisons or hidden spots in nature used as prisons and killing sites, but the the fact that the details of how Duch (head of prison M-13 and later S-21) developed his techniques of interrogation and torture, later accompanied by an extreme bureaucratic procedure, can be shown in the entire length of the history – pre-prison – central prison – killing site – in this series of three sites.

Criterion (vi): There have been mass crimes and attempts of genocide all over the world. But still not all crimes are the same. It is of universal significance to understand what was specific and outstanding in the crimes of the Khmer Rouge (see explanation above) and to acknowledge, that these three sites are the sites in Cambodia to remember the victims of the regime. The thousands of photos of prisoners together with the photos of mass graves and skulls have been endowed with an iconic status internationally to represent the image of the Khmer Rouge crimes. Without the institutions Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum and Choeung Ek, the link to the real places, where these photos were taken, would not be possible. The buildings and landscapes (Choeung Ek and former M-13) provide the physical evidence that these crimes were committed.

These sites have also held particular significance in the evolution of international criminal justice in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. The then just established museum Tuol Sleng played already the pivotal role in the world’s first trial against genocide, the People´s Revolutionary Tribunal in August 1979 and all three sites were examined intensively by the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) established in 2006, the first hybrid court, initially termed “the Cambodian model”.

In Case 002/2 the Trial Chamber found Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan guilty of crimes against humanity, grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions and genocide of the Vietnamese ethnic, national and racial group. The Chamber additionally convicted Nuon Chea of genocide of the Cham ethnic and religious group under the doctrine of superior responsibility. Nuon Chea subsequently died. The conviction of Khieu Samphan is now (March 2020) under appeal to the Supreme Court Chamber.

In addition to this juridical aspect of international importance, numerous researchers as well as artists have quoted, linked, recreated etc. images of Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum and Choeung Ek and even M-13 in their works. The most famous is Rithy Panh, international recognized Cambodian filmmaker and author, who chose many topics related to S-21 and Duch as core of his artistic works over the last decades.

Déclarations d’authenticité et/ou d’intégrité

The three crime sites (KR prison M-13/ KR “Security Office S-21”/ the Execution Site of S-21 “Choeung Ek”) are strongly linked to each other. In M-13 the later head of S-21, Kaing Guek Ieu, known as Duch, tested methods of interrogation and torture, before he later practiced and further developed them at S-21. After many prisoners were initially killed at S-21, the site Choeung Ek outside of the city was later chosen as a more appropriate site for mass execution. The vast majority of more than 18.000 prisoners of S-21 were killed at Choeung Ek.

As it has been possible until today to safeguard all three sites, they can represent together an escalation of violence, which can help to understand, how happenings like at Choeung Ek were possible. All three sites should be seen together as a single sequence of serial memorial sites for remembering and historical learning. Together they can represent with high authenticity and integrity a chronological chain of extreme mass violence.

M-13, a former early Khmer Rouge Prison (1971-1975): M-13 is located in the countryside. During the prison time no buildings were constructed. The prisoners were kept in pits, fenced by bamboo walls and the guards including Duch slept and worked under the trees. The traces of the pits are clearly visible and nothing has been planted or constructed at this site since 1975. Although everything that was built out of natural material has decayed the soil still shows the traces; objects from the prison time were found; and interviews, testimony and even publications from former inmates and guards exist. Due to its untouched character, the site’s authenticity is considered to be high as corroborated in sworn testimony at the ECCC by surviving prisoners and guards well as in several written autobiographies

Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, the former “Security Office S-21” (1976-1979): The Museum today is the core of the former S-21 detention and torture center, located in five former school buildings. It is the only prison from the Khmer Rouge period to have been converted into a museum by the government and – very importantly -- this was done immediately after the fall of the Khmer Rouge in January 1979. That is why the vast majority of the rooms were kept in the same condition in which they were found in 1979. Only for the use of the permanent exhibition and office needs, rooms were partly changed. In most of the rooms the traces of the former cells are still visible on floors and walls and thousands of graffiti inscriptions have been registered and photographed. The premises (former high school) itself has not changed structurally (no buildings have been taken away or were added, only in the two courtyards, pathways have been added and trees planted, and memorials have been erected. The only new building is a small ticket office constructed in 2010 in a corner of the site. 

In addition to the site and the buildings an enormous amount of original documents and objects are preserved from the prison time, as documented in the nomination for Memory of the World registration. Furthermore, a wealth of documentation in the form of film and video recordings and journalistic rapportage and research findings, including several PhD theses, have been produced from the very first days of the prison’s location in January 1979 until today, as summarised in the Museum’s 40th anniversary exhibition and catalogue all substantiating the historical authenticity of the site and its role. 

As mentioned above, the original scope of the site during the Khmer Rouge regime was substantially larger, encompassing a whole section of the city. As the city was reoccupied following the overthrow of the regime, inhabitants moved into the residential houses and the area managed by the museum was progressively reduced. However, today’s Museum indubitably maintains the core of S-21’s detention and administrative facilities.

Choeung Ek Genocidal Centre, the former Execution Site of S-21 (1976? -1978): The site (outside of the capital Phnom Penh, 15 km from S-21) had long been a Chinese cemetery before being used as the execution site of S-21, where it is estimated that the vast majority of the more than 18.000 victims of S-21 were killed. When the site was discovered, a large number of bodies were exhumed, but other mass graves stayed untouched until today, some of which are now submerged under the nearby lake. At the end of the 1980s a stupa was erected beside the mass graves and the bones were stored (and remain on display in the stupa since). As more and more visitors came, pathways were constructed through the mass graves that until today still reveal traces of bones and textiles, but aside from this minimal intervention, the site has remained its former landscape. Besides the large stupa, a small museum, an entrance building and other facilities for tourists have been added.

Photographic and written reports of exhumations in 1980 and later forensic examination of the remains provide extensive demonstration of the authenticity of this execution site, whose present extent substantially represents the whole.

Comparaison avec d’autres biens similaires

1. Other Memorial Sites (former camp and/or killing sites) remembering mass crimes already nominated as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Poland: Auschwitz Birkenau (inscribed in 1979). Auschwitz Birkenau was the largest Concentration and Extermination Camp from the German Nazi period (from 1940-1945), where estimated 1.5 million people, among them a great number of Jews, were systematically starved, overworked and murdered. It has become the most recognized symbol of humanity´s cruelty in the 20th century.

2. Other Memorial Sites, representing former Security prisons similar to S-21 or Killing Sites similar to Choeung Ek listed on a national UNESCO World Heritage Tentative List.

Rwanda: Sites mémoriaux du genocide: Nyamata, Murambi, Bisesero et Gisozi (submitted 2012/ on tentative List Rwanda). These four sites outside of the capital Kigali represent some of the main sites of the genocide in 1994 against the Tutsis. To show that killings happened in several parts of the country, Rwanda decided to apply for a series of memorial sites, representing different buildings, stories and “left overs” from the victims.

Rwanda: Sites mémoriaux du genocide: Nyamata, Murambi, Bisesero et Gisozi (submitted 2012/ on tentative List Rwanda). These four sites outside of the capital Kigali represent some of the main sites of the genocide in 1994 against the Tutsis. To show that killings happened in several parts of the country, Rwanda decided to apply for a series of memorial sites, representing different buildings, stories and “left overs” from the victims.

3. Other Memorial Sites (former camp and/or killing sites) remembering mass crimes already nominated as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Cambodia: Kraing Ta Chan, was - between 1973(!) and 1979 – the main security center in the district 105. It was located in the Southwest region, a region managed by Ta Mok, one of the cruelest Khmer Rouge leaders. The location was deep in the jungle, near the mountains, far from villages. It functioned in a similar way like M-13, later S-21 and Chouerng Ek. Suspected were imprisoned, interrogated, and killed. Kraing Ta Chan was one of a biggest killing fields in Cambodia where at least 10,045 persons were killed. Besides S-21 it is the only (known) prison were documents about the prisoners were produced and later found. In difference to S-21 it only had a local function and most prisoners were brought from nearby communities.