Survivor of torture – against all odds

by John Einar Sandvand on February 4, 2009

Chum Mey was one of only seven prisoners to survive the torture center Tuol Sleng. Will the coming trial of Duch finally give him justice?

Chum Mey was one of seven survivors of Tuol Sleng

Chum Mey was one of seven survivors of Tuol Sleng

    On February 17th the initial hearing in the trial of Duch – alias Kang Khek Ieu – finally will start.  Duch was Khmer Rouge‘s head of the Tuol Sleng prison in Phnom Penh.

    About 16.000 people were brought to Tuol Sleng – a former school building – during Pol Pot’s brutal regime. They were tortured, forced to write elaborate confessions and then killed. Only seven of the prisoners survived.

    One of the seven was Chum Mey.

    I walked through Tuol Sleng together with him in October 2006. It was an emotional hour as he described how he had been tortured.  His nails were removed. The fingers were broken. He was given electro shock until he fainted.  Finally, with 25 handwritten pages, he confessed his alleged crimes, including being an agent for CIA.

    - But I didn’t even know what CIA was, he told me.

    We walked through the prison rooms together, silently studying the black and white portraits of thousands of people with one thing in common: They were tortured at Tuol Sleng and then taken to the “Killing Fields” at Choeung Ek.

    Chum Mey in front of portraits of people who were killed at Tuol Sleng

    Chum Mey in front of portraits of people who were killed at Tuol Sleng

    So how could Chum Mey survive?

    Because he was an excellent mechanic. He was needed to repair the machines in the prison.

    “Keep it“, the order said. NOT “Keep him”.  Human life had no value as such in Tuol Sleng.

    Chum Mey demonstrates how he was tied in his prison cell

    Chum Mey demonstrates how he was tied in his prison cell

    We were standing by his old and extremely small prison cell when Chum Mey – now 78 years old – told me about the woman he had loved. She was pregnant when he was arrested. During the torture he kept asking himself whether he was now a father.

    And he had indeed become a father. In January 1979, as Vietnamese forces moved into Phnom Penh, he was taken to another prison. And there he saw them: His wife and the baby son.

    He was crying as he told me about the two days they got together.

    - We were ordered out in the rice fields. Suddenly guards started shooting. She was killed. So was my son and many others.

    Miraculously Chum Mey managed to run away from the gun fire – and the dead bodies of his loved ones.

    Not one day has passed since without him thinking about the the two.

    And now – more than 30 years later – the trial against the head of Tuol Sleng will start.

    Will Chum Mey finally get justice?


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    { 2 trackbacks }

    Cambodia Reading: Torture chief Duch to give his testimony | Cambodia Tales
    March 29, 2009 at 2:20 pm
    Trial of Khmer Rouge torture chief Duch: Video recordings of first day | Cambodia Tales
    March 30, 2009 at 10:35 pm

    { 2 comments… read them below or add one }

    Peter February 5, 2009 at 5:44 pm

    Thank you for a very strong article about Chum Mey. I hope the tribunal will give him justice.


    Pyitawpyan February 6, 2009 at 3:08 am

    As we enter into the 21st Century, we should seek justice with smart tools like enforcing International Criminal Court System to take legal action towards those who commit “torture” or any atrocities against humanity in any shape or form from any nation or from any Governmental head/heads. Cases of humanity cruelty and murder should be open and investigated by the International Criminal Detectives. If there is no organization like ICD (International Criminal Detectives) then it is about time for the intelligent smart people to create one!


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