Evidence Concluded in First Khmer Rouge Trial
The Khmer Rouge tribunal in the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia on Thursday concluded the hearing of evidence in the trial of Kaing Guek Eav, alias Duch, after 72 days of substantive hearings. He is best known for heading the Khmer Rouge special branch and running the infamous Tuol Sleng (S-21) prison camp in Phnom Penh. On July 31, 2007, Duch was formally charged with crimes against humanity and detained by the hybrid tribunal. He was prosecuted by international co prosecutors William Smith and Anees Ahmed and charged “of personally overseeing the systematic torture of more than 15,000 prisoners.” In his final testimony, Duch accepted responsibility for his role in overseeing the prison and asked for forgiveness from the families of the victims, gestures he has made several times during the trial. He also told the court that he was ready to accept heavy punishment for his actions. He has denied personally killing or torturing the S-21 prisoners, and said he felt compelled by fear for his own life to follow the orders of senior Khmer Rouge leaders.
Ireland, along with 30 other European states, abstained on the vote in 2003 in the General Assembly that forced Secretary-General Kofi Annan to conclude negotiations on the court, notwithstanding Ireland’s strong track record in supporting international tribunals. The Extraordinary Chambers trials have been dogged by doubts about fairness of the process which the Cambodian government have sought at all stages to dominate. While this is in accordance with general trends towards complementarily and entrusting national jurisdictions with the prosecution of serious crimes, there is a widespread and verifiable certainty that the Cambodian courts are subject to political will of Hun Sen’s ruling party. Observation of the trial for the past year suggests that these fears were exaggerated in relation to Duch, a person Phnom Penh is happy to see convicted. However, while four other senior Khmer Rouge leaders are in custody awaiting trial, it has become apparent that the Government has restrained further prosecutions of the potential sixty other indictees, possibly for fear of embarrassment as it is made of primarily of former Khmer Rouges cadres. Ireland’s skepticism may yet be vindicated, but the convction of Khmer Rouge leaders is a wonderful thing to see, albeit thirty years later when all the suspects are defeated, sick octogenarians.