PHNOM PENH, Cambodia - The Khmer Rouge tribunal delivered its first verdict Monday
and sentenced a key leader of the genocidal regime, Comrade Duch,
to 30 years behind bars, but many victims were left complaining over this
sentence outside the emotional courtroom.
Comrade Duch, whose real name is Kaing Khek Eav, was
chief of the notorious S-21 detention and torture facility
here in the Cambodian capital, where at least 12,380 people
were killed during the Khmer Rouge's rule from 1975 to 1979.
Because the 67-year-old Duch has been in detention since
May 1999, or more than 11 years ago, his sentence could in
the end be reduced to about 18 more years from now.
"The verdict is too light," complained Bou Meng, one of
just 12 people to walk out of Duch's torture facility at
Tuol Sleng prison.
Although the prosecution had asked for the maximum 40-
year sentence, judges at the U.N.-backed war crimes tribunal
said Duch's compliance with the court and "limited remorse"
meant that a total sentence of 35 years was sufficient.
"This court has tried and punished a perpetrator of
Democratic Kampuchea, one of the most macabre regimes of the
modern era," Co-prosecutor Chea Leang said following the
hour-long verdict, which found the defendant guilty of
crimes against humanity and crimes against the Geneva
Conventions of 1949 that limit the barbarity of war.
A further five years was removed from the sentence due to
what was already deemed to be illegal detainment by a
military court following Duch's original arrest in May 1999
up to July 2007, when he was handed over to the United
Nations-hybrid court itself. With this taken into
consideration, Duch will likely be imprisoned until 2029,
subject to appeal.
"Anything under 30 (years) is not acceptable because it's
inconceivable that he could even have one minute on the
street," said Theary Seng, president of Cambodia's Board for
Justice and Reconciliation.
"Now if the international community isn't providing us
justice, it leaves us with hopelessness," she added.
Close to 1.7 million people, or nearly a quarter of
Cambodia's population at the time, were executed or died
during the Khmer Rouge's rule due to forced labour or from
starvation, as the leader of the extremist Maoist group, Pol
Pot, tried to create an agrarian utopia in the country.
It was not just the Duch verdict that caused disquiet,
particularly among the civil parties, in what was the first
time that victims and their families have been considered
part of an international hybrid court process.
In a surprise move, President of the Trial Chamber Nil
Nonn told the packed courtroom that only 66 of the civil
parties would be recognised in relation to the
groundbreaking verdict, meaning that some 21 who had formed
part of the process - mostly relatives of those killed under
Duch's command - were not eligible for this recognition.
"I am not happy," said Hong Savath, whose uncle died in
S-21. "The judge should have told me from the beginning that
I am not a civil party."
She would appeal, she added, although lawyers
representing the civil parties throughout the process
lamented that reparations were little more than symbolic
anyway. This is because the Khmer Rouge tribunal had not set
up the likes of a trust fund to compensate victims, as is
the case with the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
Along with a compiled list of Duch's confessions of guilt
and remorse, the names of those deemed victimised as a
result of his actions are to be compiled on the official
But as some civil party lawyers noted, many of the
relatives of the Khmer Rouge victims are unlikely to ever
witness this gesture anyway, because Cambodia is among the
least Internet-connected countries in the region.
"It seems ... what has been ordered is the most minimal,
most conservative and - perhaps it's fair to say - rather
unimaginative reparations," said Karim Khan, a legal
representative of some of the victims.
While lawyers, court monitors, spokespeople, judges,
journalists and humanitarian workers announced and debated
the verdict and its many intricacies, the most quiet person
in the whole process on Jul. 26 was Duch himself.
Asked to stand for the final verdict, he gave little
indication of emotion. The five judges did not give the
former revolutionary a chance to respond to the deliverance
of justice that he denied his own detainees at S-21.
After firing his previous lawyer before the verdict, Duch
is expected to lodge an appeal, especially given his
surprising request for acquittal during the final hearings
at the end of 2009.
The question many have asked throughout this lengthy
process is: has Duch changed?
Despite his metamorphosis from mass murderer to Christian
aid worker after the fall of the Khmer Rouge regime, S-21
survivor Chum Mey says he had seen little in the way of
remorse and humility in the regime's chief torturer. "Until
now, he is the same man. I still see the violence in him and
I still see the arrogance."