Monday, March 30, 2009

Long-delayed Khmer Rouge genocide trial opens

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia – A former teacher accused of carrying out the murderous policies of Cambodia's Khmer Rouge went on trial Monday, as prosecutors opened their first case against the hard-core communists who turned the country into a killing field three decades ago.
A U.N.-assisted genocide tribunal has charged Kaing Guek Eav, 66, with committing crimes against humanity and war crimes, as well as torture and homicide.
The tribunal is seeking to establish responsibility for the group's brutal 1975-79 misrule of the country under Pol Pot, the group's leader who died in 1998. An estimated 1.7 million Cambodians died of starvation, medical neglect, slave-like working conditions and execution under the Khmer Rouge.
"Cambodians have been waiting 30 years for the Khmer Rouge to be tried for the violence and suffering they inflicted upon the population," said Professor Alex Hinton, director of Rutgers University's Center for the Study of Genocide and Human Rights. "That day has arrived."
Cambodian state television and radio were broadcasting Monday's proceedings live, and 70 percent of the country's 14.3 million people were expected to tune in, Information Minister Khieu Kanharith said. The verdict at the end of the trial is also expected to be broadcast live.
The defendant stood when asked to identify himself and gave his name as, "Kaing Guek Eav, alias Duch," — his nom de guerre (pronounced "Gang Geck Ee-uu" and "Doik"). He then listed other names he used while in hiding after the regime's fall.
Duch ran the Khmer Rogue's main prison, the notorious torture center known as S-21, or Tuol Sleng, in Phnom Penh. As many as 16,000 men, women and children were brutally tortured there before being sent to their deaths.
According to Duch's lengthy indictment, which was read aloud by court officials, "Every prisoner who arrived at S-21 was destined for execution."
"Interrogators used several forms of torture in order to extract confessions from prisoners," said the indictment, listing the main methods as "beating, electrocution, placing a plastic bag over the head and pouring water into the nose."
Duch has acknowledged there was also a practice of puncturing or removing finger and toenails, it said, and "at least one prisoner was force-fed excrement."
Scores of survivors traveled from around the country to witness the hearing. Among them was Svay Simon, a one-legged, 64-year-old farmer whose limb was blown off by a Khmer Rouge bomb in 1975. He lost 10 relatives, including his sister and brother, to the regime.
"I never thought I would have a chance to see Duch and sit in on this trial," he said, walking with a cane as he entered the courtroom.
Duch holds the distinction of being not only the first member of the Khmer Rouge to face trial for the regime's atrocities, but also the only one to express remorse for his role.
Duch's French lawyer, Francois Roux, said during a procedural hearing that his client wished "to ask forgiveness from the victims, but also from the Cambodian people. He will do so publicly. This is the very least he owes the victims."
Duch disappeared after the group fell from power, living under two other names. He returned to teaching and converted to Christianity before he was discovered by chance by a British journalist in the Cambodian countryside in 1999.
Since then he has been in detention awaiting trial. Technically, Duch's trial opened in February, when the judges ruled on procedural issues such as scheduling and witnesses. But Monday's hearing marks the start of its substantive phase, including the first chance for Duch to publicly tell his story and face the families of victims.
Duch methodically recorded the treatment of each prisoner in thousands of documents that were found in the compound after the fall of the Khmer Rouge in January 1979. One shows Duch's signature on a list of prisoners, with the words "Kill them all."
"It's going to be a painful process but it's a process that we believe will lead to ... a feeling that finally justice is achieved, and it will be worth experiencing this pain," Tribunal spokeswoman Helen Jarvis told The Associated Press.
Human rights groups want the number of defendants increased beyond Duch and the four senior Khmer Rouge leaders being held for trial in the next year or so.
Critics of the tribunal also charge that Cambodia's government has sought to limit its scope because other suspects are now loyal to Prime Minister Hun Sen, and to arrest them could be politically awkward.
Associated Press


"Cambodians have been waiting 30 years for the Khmer Rouge to be tried for the violence and suffering they inflicted upon the population," said Prof. Alex Hinton, director of Rutgers University's Center for the Study of Genocide and Human Rights. "That day has arrived."What took so long? Most Cambodians don't even have a Memory of this in their Country..some still deny it even ever happened..Why the UN and War Crimes Tribunal dragged its feey for so long in bringing these criminals to just another example of how truely ineffective they are..Would it be that China as a Security counsil member had anything to do with the delay?

For Cambodia to have arrived at the point of being able to put anyone responsible on trial for the Communist period of their past is terrific...Lets trust that the current free government will not allow any of those responsible, regardless of their present status, to save themselves from the consequences of the genocide committed upon the Cambodian people in those "killing fields" of the past

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