Tuol Sleng documents preserved digitally

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
A visitor to the Toul Sleng Genocide Museum contemplates photos of S-21 prisoners executed by the Khmer Rouge at the site in the 1970’s. Hong Menea

Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum has launched a digital database to access the largest archive of the Khmer Rouge regime’s prison system records. The general public will be able to access the digital database and website in addition to the victims’ family members and researchers.

According to UNESCO, the launch of the online database marked the success of a three-year project to digitise and preserve the documentary evidence stored at the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum.

The project was jointly implemented by UNESCO in collaboration with the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts of Cambodia and with the generous financial support of the Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA).

In a press statement, UNESCO said the museum has completed the digitisation of more than 60,000 documents totalling almost half a million pages that include photographs, biographies of detainees, notebooks, propaganda magazines, forced confessions and other written materials.

All the information contained in the documents – amounting to over 4 million data elements – has been compiled in a digital database that officially went online on January 29.

UNESCO, the culture ministry and KOICA started the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum Archives Preservation and Digitisation Project in 2015 and worked on the project until the end of 2020 with funding provided by a grant of $1.15 million.

Culture minister Phoeurng Sackona said during the launch event that the development of this database and website was vital for preserving the archives at Tuol Sleng museum and making the information broadly available.

“The creation of this archive was accomplished through the preservation and repair of old documents so we could then make them available in a digital form,” Sackona said.

According to KOICA, this project’s goal was preserving and digitizing all of the archives at Tuol Sleng Museum, which has been registered as a UNESCO Memory of the World since 2009.

According to the KOICA press materials, the second goal was to transform Tuol Sleng into a place for education and healing where the younger generation as well as Khmer Rouge era survivors can access information about their history and hold dialogues together on peace and non-violence.

The third goal was to build the capacity of the staff at Tuol Sleng Genocide museum and culture ministry in the area of archive management.

The database will make it easier for the public and for international researchers to find the information they need and gain a greater understanding of what occurred there.

Tuol Sleng was also known by its official prison number “S-21.” It was one of the most notorious interrogation and extermination centres run by the Khmer Rouge regime from 1975-79. Built as a school prior to the conflict, it eventually served as a prison for more than 18,000 prisoners and their families – including many Khmer Rouge members once they had fallen out of favour for one reason or another.