The Twentieth Century will possibly go down in history as the genocide century. One of the most appalling examples of this horrendous crime was that of the Cambodian Genocide. The reign of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia commenced in April 1975 and ended in January 1979. In a period of less than four years approximately 30% of the population were killed.
Unlike the reign of the Nazis in Germany where the Nuremberg Trials were staged to put on trial leading Nazis very soon after the war, the Cambodian survivors have had to wait a long time for justice. The reasons for this are long and complicated but finally there has been a proper trial of Kaing Guek Eav, commonly known as “Duch,” the notorious prison chief of Tuol Sleng prison in Cambodia. The Guardian explains:
Over a four-year period in the late 1970s, more than 16,000 men, women and children passed through Tuol Sleng, only 14 are thought to have survived. Most were tortured into making confessions before being loaded onto trucks and driven to the killing fields of Choeung Ek, where they were bludgeoned to death.
Duch had authorised the tortures and executions – including the pulling out of prisoners’ toenails, administering electric shocks and waterboarding – sometimes taking part himself, the court heard.
Duch was sentenced to 35 years in prison, but this is reduced by 11 years for time served and by a further five years for time when he held captive and as such he is due to be released in 19 years time, assuming he will still be alive. Many are not happy with what they see as too short a sentence:
Theary Sang, whose dad was murdered at Tuol Seng, said: “Eleven hours per life taken – it’s a joke.”
Bou Meng, one of only a dozen people to survive the death camp, added: “The verdict seems to slap me in the face and kick me in the head.”
I have some sympathy with those that claim the sentence was too light. The Bangkok Post from neighouring Thailand observes:
having found Duch guilty of the worst cruelty and thousands of the most gruesome murders ever recorded, they handed down a sentence that is roughly what mid-level drug dealers have received in courts in Thailand.
They have a point.
There are four more major trials of senior Khmer Rouge officials next year. I hope that by the end of this, Cambodians will be able to see that justice is being done.