July 2010

Duch’s Verdict

by socheata on July 27, 2010

Yesterday, I gathered at the site of the Khmer Rouge Tribunal (the ECCC) to listen to the judgment of Duch, the former commander of S-21, the regime’s most infamous prison and torture center. Hundreds of Cambodians, from near and far, and journalists gathered to witness this historic moment.

As the judge read the summary of Duch’s guilty verdict, I was moved to hear the narrative of his crimes. Although I had read of and heard an account of the crimes of S-21 many times in books and films, hearing the legal summary helped to legitimize and validate the suffering of victims like those in my family. I was glad this was now entering the official historical and legal record.

A generation since the Khmer Rouge years, some survivors still have a hard time understanding what happened to them. They wonder if it was as bad as they remember it. Some start to downplay the impact of what happened. After all, everyone them kno went through similar trauma. Maybe their story isn’t so remarkable.

But to hear the judge utter these terms – “extermination,” “torture,” “murder,” and “crimes against humanity” – it did help to acknowledge that Khmer Rouge survivors are victims of humanity’s greatest crimes.

Like most Cambodians, I was upset, however, by two things – the reparations and verdict.

As far as I can tell, the reparations to victims amounts to a compilation of Duch’s apologies which were negated by his last-ditch request for acquittal.

Further, the remaining sentence for Duch of 19 years means he could be freed in his lifetime.

Cambodians have no faith in the justice system. I cling to some shred of hope that the ECCC prosecutors have strategically lessened Duch’s sentence in order to gain his cooperation for the upcoming prosecution of higher-ranking KR leaders.

The victims, civil parties, all Cambodians were so despondent yesterday. I hope that the ECCC eventually redeems itself.