Tuesday, February 17, 2009
Some 30 years after one of Asia's worst genocides, its perpetrators may finally be brought to justice.
Today, Kaing Guek Eav (more commonly known as Duch), now a religious Christian, will appeared before Cambodia's genocide tribunal in its first hearing over the infamous (and rueful) Khmer Rouge regime's role in the massacre. Duch is charged with crimes against humanity, including torture, murder, and rape.
Some 1.7 million Cambodians, or roughly one-third of the population, died during the regime's reign of terror, which prosecuted, among others, intellectuals or those deemed to have been "corrupted" by the erstwhile regime.
I had the chance to visit Duch's school-turned-prison, the S-21, which he was in charge of in Phnom Penh, Cambodia's laid-back capital (see attached pictures). I was surprised to read this morning that he has voiced regret for what he did and is now seeking forgiveness, unlike the other accomplices charged by the UN-assisted tribunal. However, he has apparently not made any formal confession, merely admitting that crimes did take place under his watch at S-21.
According to the Associated Press, the trial is to begin in late March, with 33 witnesses testifying over 40 days, with the defense seeking 13 witnesses of 4.5 days.
For years, I've been following this case in publications such as The Financial Times, reading about the incessant bickering between Cambodia and the UN over funding and pay, with former spooks, who to some degree still run amok and pull a fair amount of strings in the Buddhist kingdom, clearly influencing many decisions. It is amazing that this tribunal was proposed 13 years ago--and the court inaugurated 3 years ago--but only now has it got under way.
Alas, many other perpetrators with blood on their hands are still free or at large--and, most rueful of all, they may not even be brought to trial. This, regrettably, will only weaken the authority of the court, no matter what Duch's ultimate fate may be.