Cambodia's first step toward justice for Khmer Rouge
Kaing Guek Eav, who led the Khmer Rouge's notorious S-21 prison, was indicted Tuesday.
Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Just after dawn Tuesday, Kaing Guek Eav, better known as Duch, gathered his clothes from the military prison cell he has lived in for the last eight years and walked, silent and expressionless, to a waiting car.Skip to next paragraph
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Duch is the only man facing charges for the crimes committed by the Khmer Rouge, a radical communist regime that oversaw the deaths of some 1.7 million people – roughly one quarter of the population – when it ruled Cambodia in the late 1970s.
Experts say Duch could be a key witness in the long-delayed efforts to bring justice to the people of Cambodia, and in a Wednesday statement from the court Duch said he "is ready to reveal the crimes committed by the Khmer Rouge."
For Cambodians, Duch's journey to the international criminal court represents the culmination of a decades-long wait for justice followed by more than a year of legal wrangling between the international community and the Cambodian judicial system.
Duch's indictment is surely a sign of progress for the troubled court, but many still worry that the justice handed down will be too late and too narrow to permeate the cover of impunity and secrecy that surrounds Cambodia's Khmer Rouge past. Duch's arrest and detention surprised no one, and some argue that the real tests of this court, which unlike any other international criminal court, operates under national control, are still to come.
"We hope that charging Duch is the start of real progress on the trials," Brad Adams, Asia director for Human Rights Watch, wrote by email from London. "But it was impossible not to charge him, as he was already in custody and has confessed to his crimes in media interviews. The first real test is whether Nuon Chea, Khieu Samphan, Ieng Sary, and Ieng Thirith are soon charged and arrested," said Mr. Adams, referring to other Khmer Rouge leaders who have been implicated in human rights crimes.
Adams added that real justice – and a true justification of the court's $56 million price tag – means going after more than just five people, and making decisions that are clearly based on evidence, not politics.
Tribunal judges on Tuesday charged Duch with crimes against humanity for his role as the director of the notorious S21 prison, where some 14,000 people are thought to have been tortured before being sent to their deaths in the killing fields outside Phnom Penh.
To some extent, the tribunal is at long last bringing the judicial record into line with the historical one. Duch is the first of five suspects identified by tribunal prosecutors earlier this month to be publicly named, but the local press was quick to name the other historical headliners of the failed revolution as top candidates for prosecution.
In addition to Duch, they fingered Nuon Chea, the movement's chief ideologue and second in command to the late Pol Pot; Khieu Samphan, the regime's head of state; Ieng Sary, the Khmer Rouge foreign minister; and his wife, Ieng Thirith, who served as minister of social affairs.
All but Duch still live with impunity in Cambodia.
The tribunal announced Wednesday that Duch had chosen his defense team: Kar Savuth, a Cambodian who has been his lawyer for eight years and has also represented Cambodia's Prime Minister, Hun Sen; and François Roux, a French attorney who was part of the defense team for Zacarias Moussaoui, a French citizen of Moroccan descent now serving a life sentence for his involvement with the 9/11 terror attacks.
Duch has already served eight years without trial, which promises to be a thorny legal issue for the court to resolve.