Today I visited the site of one of humanities darkest chapters; Cambodia’s infamous Killing Fields. Here people were tortured and brutalised before being executed then thrown into mass graves in the grounds of a once peaceful orchard just nine miles (14.5 kilometers) from the country’s capital, Phnom Penh.
Back in the 1970’s Cambodia’s borders were closed and the country fell under the rule of the Khmer Rouge led by crazed communist dictator, Pol Pot. What followed was the brutal and inhuman murder of nearly two million people, a third of the country’s population, in a genocide that went largely unnoticed by the rest of the world.
Unlike other such dark chapters in human history, the genocide in Cambodia was not driven by racial or religious hatred but by an ideology that became so twisted it can only be described as pure insanity. After coming to power Pol Pot ordered the swift execution of anyone who was educated, well-known, or simply wore glasses. Cities were emptied and everyone was ordered to give up everything and do hard labor on farms. Starvation and disease claimed the lives of thousands as soldiers of the Khmer Rouge killed increasing numbers of those seen as ‘traitors,’ ‘foreign spies,’ or simply ‘the enemy.’
My visit to the killing fields near Phnom Penh was a haunting experience. It’s one of thousands of such killing fields across Cambodia, but these days serves as a memorial to the dead and an educational reminder of the horror and madness that happened here.
As you walk through the main gate you see a memorial tower filled with thousands of human skulls and bones excavated from the surrounding fields. Todays picture shows just a few of the skulls piled high inside the tower.
As I walked the dust paths through the killing fields I saw scraps of clothes coming out of the earth along with teeth and bone fragments. The ground has pushed these grizzly artefacts to the surface for years, almost as if it doesn’t want to keep the terrible secrets of this landmark in human cruelty and shame.