U.N.-backed tribunal sentenced a senior Khmer Rouge commander to 35 years in prison

Posted on July 26, 2010

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A U.N.-backed tribunal sentenced a senior Khmer Rouge commander to 35 years in prison on Monday in its first verdict on the “Killing Fields” revolution blamed for 1.7 million deaths in Cambodia three decades ago. But 67-year-old Kaing Guek Eav, known as Duch, will only serve 19 years after the court subtracted 16 years for time already served — short of the maximum 40 years sought by the prosecution and the life behind bars many Cambodians demanded. The former schoolteacher admitted during the eight-month trial to overseeing the torture and the killing of more than 14,000 people but said he was only following orders.

“We hoped this tribunal would strike hard at impunity but if you can kill 14,000 people and serve only 19 years — 11 hours per life taken — what is that? It’s a joke,” said Theary Seng, a Cambodian who is now a U.S.-national and lost his father at the Tuol Sleng prison run by Duch.

“My gut feeling is this has made the situation far worse for Cambodia,” he said.

Duch betrayed no emotion as the verdict was read. Some Cambodians wept loudly in the courtroom. He was found guilty of murder, torture, rape, inhumane acts, crimes against humanity and other charges for running Tuol Sleng, a converted school also known as S-21. An estimated fifth of the population died during the Khmer Rouge’s 1975-79 rule over the already war-scarred country. Thousands huddled around televisions in cafes and homes to watch live broadcasts of the sentencing, struggling to understand the first verdict by the joint U.N.-Cambodian court set up to end decades of silence over atrocities committed by the Khmer Rouge.

“There is no justice. I wanted life imprisonment for Duch,” said Hong Sovath, 47, sobbing. Her father, a diplomat, was killed in the prison.

Khan Mony, whose aunt was executed after passing through the Duch’s jail, said he was devastated. 

“The verdict is not fair. This warranted life. Duch killed so many people. If this court was fair, people would have been calm and accepted this,” she said.

 The court said it opted against life in prison for several reasons, including Duch’s expressions of remorse, cooperation with the court, his “potential for rehabilitation” and the coercive environment of life under the Khmer Rouge.

 “The chamber has decided there are significant mitigating factors that mandate a finite term imprisonment rather than life imprisonment,” the tribunal’s president said in a statement.

 Now a born-again Christian, Duch had expressed “excruciating remorse” for the S-21 victims, most of them tortured and forced to confess to spying and other crimes before they were bludgeoned at the “Killing Fields” execution sites during the agrarian revolution, which ended with a 1979 invasion by Vietnam. The court said at least 12,273 people were killed at Tuol Sleng but acknowledged the number could be as high as 14,000.

“The sentence handed down was 35 years. From that there was a five-year deduction because of the illegal detention in the military court. Reduced from that is the 11 years he has served in custody, bringing it to 18 or 19 years,” Richard Rogers, head court’s defense section, told Reuters.

Some have expressed hope the verdict would finally give the impoverished nation a chance to move forward — and a chance for investors to gauge whether rule of law has taken root in one of Asia’s most promising frontier markets. While Duch’s case is clear-cut, more controversy awaits when, or if, four other cadres indicted by the court are finally tried. The cases of former President Khieu Samphan, “Brother Number Two” Nuon Chea, ex-Foreign Minister Ieng Sary and his wife, Ieng Thirith are highly complex and politicized. Many fear they may never go to trial, or they might die before seeing a courtroom. Standing in the way of justice, analysts say, is not just the excessive bureaucracy and a drawn-out legal process, but a powerful single-party government that has never fully backed the tribunal and has historical ties to the Khmer Rouge. Many former Khmer Rouge members are now part of Cambodia’s civil service and occupy top positions in provincial and central government and experts say they are keen to curtail the court’s progress and limit the scope of future investigations.

Long-serving Prime Minister Hun Sen is himself a former Khmer Rouge foot soldier who says he defected to eventual conquerors Vietnam. He has warned of another civil war if the court expands its probes into the horrors of Pol Pot’s “year zero” revolution.

Finance Minister Keat Chhon has also admitted his involvement as an interpreter for late Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot, while Foreign Minister Hor Namhong has been accused of having Khmer Rouge connections and heading a detention center. He denies the claims.

http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20100726/wl_nm/us_cambodia_rouge;_ylt=Aqp5QNHyBI28Cw.xa.DixKGs0NUE;_ylu=X3oDMTNoZzhpaXVzBGFzc2V0A25tLzIwMTAwNzI2L3VzX2NhbWJvZGlhX3JvdWdlBGNjb2RlA21vc3Rwb3B1bGFyBGNwb3MDMQRwb3MDMwRwdANob21lX2Nva2UEc2VjA3luX3RvcF9zdG9yeQRzbGsDZnVsbG5ic3BzdG9y

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