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Cambodia

Torture chief of the Khmer Rouge convicted

by Claudia Isabel Rittel
The special tribunal for the crimes of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia passed its first verdict in July: Kaing Guek Eav, alias Duch, was sentenced to 19 years behind bars. The state attorney filed an appeal, considering the punishment too mild. Duch himself had pleaded not guilty.

At least 15,000 people were imprisoned, tortured and executed in Tuol Sleng prison in 1975 and the following years when the communist Khmer Rouge under Pol Pot were in power in Cambodia. All in all, some 1.7 million Cambodians were killed during their reign – many starved, many executed. For the murders in the torture chambers of Tuol Sleng in the capital Phnom Penh, Duch was now found guilty. The special tribunal for the crimes of the Khmer Rouge put the former prison chief on trial for crimes against humanity and war crimes, committed during the Pol Pot regime.

Duch, who headed the torture prison from 1975 to 1979, admitted to be guilty in the proceedings, but claimed to have been an unimportant part of the system. The court sentenced him to 35 years in jail, but suspended 16 years in view of the time he has already spent in custody. The law suit against Duch began in March 2009. Cambodia’s state attorney filed an appeal against the charge, demanding a tougher sentence, as was made known by the UN-backed special tribunal. Duch was the first of the five accused Khmer Rouge leaders to stand before the special tribunal. The Khmer Rouge boss Pol Pot died unpunished in 1998.

Only in 1997 and under international pressure, Prime Minister Hun Sen asked the United Nations for support to establish the tribunal – nearly 20 years after the Khmer Rouge’s reign of terror. International donors covered most of the costs. The special tribunal was repeatedly criticised. Procedural issues and the location of the tribunal were especially disputed. Repeated claims of corruption put the credibility of the court to test. (cir)