Today, the United Nations supported Cambodia Tribunal determined the verdict for a former Khmer Rouge officer involved in a genocide during the 1970′s. Kaing Guek Eav (67 years old), or ‘Comrade Duch’ is the first major, former Khmer Rouge leader found to be guilty of “crimes against humanity”. Duch was charged with inhumane acts like mass torture and murder. The trial sentenced Duch to 35 years in prison, however Duch was given a detention credit of 5 years. The 30 years left in prison was subtracted by the 11 years he has already served in prison from 1999 to 2010 which totals up to 19 years, the required amount of time Ieu must spend time in jail.
Even though Duch had confessed he was in charge of a torture system that swallowed up more than 16,000 prisoners, both prosecutor and defense pleaded for the Cambodia Tribunal to put out a light sentence.
Most Cambodians have decried the amount of years as “meager” for the astronomical number of people Duch had tortured and killed. “I expected to be weeping tears of happiness – a desire fulfilled, instead I wept tears of disbelief.” growled a man who lost his young niece, who died in captivity decades ago. Others shared similar feelings. “No. Not possible” another man repeated while shaking his head in dissaproval of the verdict.
Many worry that the tribunal’s verdict will cause the general public to lose faith in their government.
The Cambodians’ fury is more than understandable, it is justifiable. When one goes on a tour in Cambodia, it is unavoidable that during the tour one will visit museums or memorials holding displays of thousands of human skulls. Usually the museums, the most famous being the Tuol Sleng Museum, were once the sites of concentration camps, torture centers, and other horrifying places that were once innocent.
Up to an estimated number of 2 million individuals were mercilessly killed by the Khmer Rouge government. The Khmer Rouge led by Saloth Sar, or more infamously known as Pol Pot, carried out its own version of China’s Cultural Revolution.
Thousands of intellectuals including professors, teachers, artists, and writers were executed or tortured until death. Ethnic and religious groups in Cambodia were also persecuted by the Khmer Rouge. Furthermore, Cambodian economy virtually died when Pol Pot’s idea of “Year Zero” forced most Cambodians into the countryside from cities and urban landscapes.
Methods to kill or torture victims were grotesque and morbid. Historical photos of these victims and discoveries of mass burial sites remain as strong evidence using in the Cambodia Tribunal. The Pol Pot regime adopted various forms of tortures for their intended victims including the infamous Chinese water torture. Babies were offered no mercy as well. Graphic depictions of how babies were killed are in a few museums; depictions show soldiers bashing babies’ heads against trees or tossing them into the air and piercing them through with bayonets.
Although Pol Pot and some of his chief aides have died peacefully without being properly prosecuted (much to the anger of many in Cambodia), there remains a few more former Khmer Rouge leaders waiting to be trialed this year by the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC). The list includes Khieu Samphen, who was the Khmer Rouge’s Head of State, and Nuon Chea who was considered as 2nd in command to Pol Pot himself.