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Cambodia - S21 soldiers
Tuol Sleng jail: The guards would beat the prisoners before they were sent to Cambodia's killing fields.
[Photo: Nic Dunlop, Panos]

A verdict in the trial of Kaing Guek Eav (known as Duch) is expected on Monday and will be broadcast live across Cambodia.  Duch was the former Tuol Sleng Jail (S-21) prison chief and was involved in the deaths of approximately 15,000 people.  At the beginning of the trial, Duch repeatedly apologised and begged for forgiveness for his crimes but shockingly asked for an acquittal at the end of the trial.  He is the only person to have admitted responsibility to the tribunal but then again, none of the other trials have really begun yet so that may change in time.

Cambodia's War Crimes Tribunal was set up after a decade of negotiations between the Cambodian government and the United Nations.  Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has been vocal in his opposition of the pursuing further suspects as he fears that it could destabilise the country further.  Most of the Cambodians that I have spoken to on this blog and in person feel that it is too late to dredge up these issues now.  Many Cambodians do not follow the trials because it is either too painful on a personal level for them to do so or they simply feel that it happened too long ago and should be left alone.  See: Cambodia awaits Khmer Rouge prison chief verdict [The Province].

One person who is looking forward to the verdict is Hilary Holland.  Her brother John Dewhirst was the only Briton to be slaughtered in the “Killing Fields” as his boat strayed too close to the coast of Cambodia and he was captured, tortured and forced to admit to being a CIA spy before being executed.  See: Duch trial: sister of Briton who died in Khmer Rouge killing fields says his murderer should never be freed [Telegraph.co.uk].

Whatever verdict is delivered, you can be sure that Duch will appeal it as he recently sacked his international lawyer and decided to keep only his Cambodian lawyer.  He cited “loss of confidence” and this might in fact be linked to his dramatic request for an acquittal at the end of the trial.  If there was discord between his local and international lawyers and if his international lawyers were the ones encouraging him to own up to his actions, then he may well have come to the end of the trial and realised what the impact of those admissions would be.  He would never have been given an outright acquittal but may have come to realise that there is a limit to the leniency that could be shown to him.  See: K.Rouge prison chief sacks his international lawyer [AFP].

Cambodia - Kaing Guek Eav trial - Duch
Chum Mey, 79, one of the few survivors of Khmer Rouge's security prison Tuol Sleng (S-21), looks from the cell where he was tortured in Phnom Penh.
[Photo: Chor Sokunthea, Reuters]

Another person who is looking forward to the verdict is Chum Mey.  In the two years he spent in S-21, he was subjected to incredible torture and the experience continues to haunt him 30 years later.

“For the 79-year-old Mr Mey, a warm, friendly man who survived two years inside Tuol Sleng only for his wife and child to be murdered, it has meant visiting on an almost daily basis the torture camp-turned-museum that now stands as a deeply disturbing reminder of the darkness of which humans are capable” – Independent.co.uk.

I am sure that the verdict tomorrow will be interesting but I am unsure whether it will do anything to bring reconciliation or healing to the situation.


The Khmer Rouge was a communist, Maoist party that ruled Cambodia from 1975 to 1979 under the leadership of Pol Pot. They set up a radical form of agrarian communism where city dwellers were forced to leave cities and work on farms. Their murderous regime resulted in genocide - between 850 000 and 1.5 million people died from execution, torture, forced work or starvation, representing between 20 to 25% of the total population.

Click here to read all of my previous posts on Cambodia.

About Mandy Southgate

Mandy Southgate is an accountant living and working in London. She is passionate about world events such as genocide and apartheid and has a desire to understand how these events continue to occur in the modern world. With a focus on the 20th and 21st centuries, A Passion to Understand reflects her continuing research and reading on these topics.
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2 comments:

  1. Emm deeply disturbing and close to "home."

    I am unsure about these type of trials, yes they do serve a purpose for victims families, but in Cambodia and many other countries around the world, for the most part the events are now history.

    Despite the atrocities committed by Nazis in WWII I see little point in hunting down old men to face their last days in jail.

    Time to move on I feel.

    ReplyDelete
  2. @ Mike: That is so weird! I was certain that I had replied to this comment previously! Hmmm, maybe not. From what I have heard from speaking to Cambodians, the trials are not of benefit to the victims' families - they are too painful for them. I believe a truth and reconciliation commission mightbe of benefit but the Prime Minister, allegedly ex-Khmer Rouge, believes it would have a destabilising effect on the country.

    The problem is that it has to come out sometime. If these people owned up to their wrongs in a controlled and safe environment (TRC), we would no longer need to hunt them down and make them pay.

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