In the packed public gallery some of the Cambodians present shed their own tears, triggered by painful memories of the killing fields. The moving testimonies came during the first trial of a senior Khmer Rouge figure, Kaing Guek Eav, known as Duch, the former director of S Duch, 66, a former maths teacher, has been charged with crimes against humanity and war crimes, and indicted for torture and the execution of more than 15, men, women and children detained in S21 during the Khmer Rouge reign of terror from to Sitting only a few metres from his former victims Duch has for the most part remained stony-faced over the last few weeks , staring straight ahead.
Almost every day the tribunal has heard gruesome details of torture — the use of poisonous centipedes, waterboarding, and medical experiments carried out on inmates.
Today it was the turn of a former prison guard to describe how he was forced to send thousands of detainees to an execution site. Duch has admitted in court to some of these horrors. Draining blood was also done," he has said. The former commander has testified the torture regime was ordered and controlled from the top.
He answered directly to Son Sen, Pol Pot's interior minister now dead , and also to Nuon Chea, Pol Pot's second in command a defendant in a second trial. Claiming that he was afraid to disobey their orders, Duch has performed with an intriguing mixture of admissions, remorse and denial.
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But he has also vigorously denied claims he participated in beatings and torture. Nam Man, 48, another survivor, believes otherwise. She said she saw him beat two of her uncles to death with a metal rod. The last few weeks have marked a turning point in this UN-backed tribunal for the crimes of Democratic Kampuchea, a regime that emptied the cities and transformed the countryside into a vast complex of slave labour camps. This long-awaited "mixed tribunal", which combines Cambodian lawyers and judges with international jurists, has always been controversial.
In the s, the US government blocked any attempt to get a tribunal off the ground. Now, 30 years on, the tribunal that many said would never exist is under fire for alleged corruption and claims of political meddling by the prime minister, Hun Sen. With international funding far from assured, some have predicted its imminent collapse. But the hail of criticism from some quarters is being balanced by a growing sense of the trial's importance, especially for the victims. Controversy is being outweighed by catharsis as Cambodia faces up to its past. The public gallery was so full on one day that the New Zealand judge, Dame Silvia Cartwright, ruled that Cambodians had priority over international observers.
The respected Documentation Centre of Cambodia has concluded that the Pol Pot regime caused the death of just under 2 million people from torture, mass execution, disease, forced labour and starvation. Youk Chhang, the centre's director, insists that the packed gallery proves "Cambodians must have ownership over the process". This tribunal can even be a model for future tribunals," he said. Ros Phirum, 54, was among the villagers from Kien Svay district who recently attended the trial. Now I feel some justice is finally happening. At the very least, this tribunal has made legal history.
The Cambodian model has enabled victims to file a case against the accused alongside the prosecution, with civil-party lawyers also entitled to cross-examine and call witnesses. The tribunal has created a victims unit to facilitate the work of civil parties. Boulder:Westview Press.
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