“He’s killed many people; why does he only get 19 years?”

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

In a landmark ruling Monday, an UN-backed tribunal convicted a former Khmer Rouge official of war crimes and crimes against humanity. While the verdict was widely received as a triumph of international justice, many Cambodians were angered by a sentence they felt was far too lenient.

27 July 2010
By Jared Ferrie, Phnom Penh
Radio Netherlands Worldwide

Kain Guek Eav, better known by his nom de guerre, “Duch”, was sentenced to 35 years incarceration for overseeing a prison where as many as 17,000 people were tortured before being killed during the regime’s reign from 1975 to 1979. But judges at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) reduced that by 16 years, giving him credit for time served as well as his illegal detention in a Cambodian military prison before he was handed over to the tribunal.

Duch now has 19 years left to serve, raising the possibility that the 67-year-old could one day be released – a prospect that enraged victims of the regime who were hoping judges would sentence him to prison for the rest of his life.

What is unacceptable is to envision him as a free man even for one minute in the public sphere. He should be receiving many life sentences,” said Theary Seng, whose family members were murdered by the regime, including an uncle who may have been tortured at Duch’s Tuol Sleng or S-21 prison.

Ms. Seng spoke to reporters outside the court in Phnom Penh, but Cambodians throughout the country had similar reactions after watching the judgment on television or listening on the radio. The Documentation Centre of Cambodia (DC-Cam) held public screenings in seven provinces and organisers said many villagers reacted in shock to the verdict.

“Even 35 years, some people do not agree (with the sentence). They want to put Duch away for life,” said Sovanndany Kim, of DC-Cam, who spoke by telephone after a screening in Banteay Meanchey province.

She said villagers pointed out that a rapist in Cambodia is often sentenced to seven years, and asked about Duch: “He’s killed many people; why does he only get 19 years?”

Their concerns were seemingly underscored by a Phnom Penh municipal court ruling handed down the same day: a man convicted of drug trafficking was fined $10,000 and sentenced to 20 years in prison.
Others hailed the tribunal’s first verdict as a milestone for Cambodians who have waited three decades to bring to justice leaders of the regime that killed as many as 2 million people.

Heather Ryan, of the Open Society Justice Institute, which has been outspoken about alleged political interference and corruption at the tribunal, said the Duch trial proved to Cambodians that their leaders could not commit atrocities with impunity.

“In the long run I think that the recognition that the judgment gives to the suffering of people in Cambodia generally will be what is left as the legacy,” she said.

Prosecution lawyers also said they were satisfied with the verdict.

“The most important thing is that the judgment meets international standards of justice,” said deputy prosecutor William Smith, adding that his team would consider appealing for a stiffer sentence.

The prosecution had asked for 45 years, but judges granted a degree of leniency based on “mitigating factors” including Duch’s cooperation with the court, expressions of remorse and his admission of individual responsibility for crimes committed at S-21.

Under court rules, Duch has 30 days to file notice that he will appeal the verdict. His lawyer, Kar Savuth, told the Cambodia Daily newspaper that he plans to appeal.

Four more suspects have been charged with atrocities carried out under Khmer Rouge reign. Unlike Duch, they were members of the regime’s ruling clique. Some observers worry that they may not live to face justice, as all are elderly and have health problems. Court officials have indicated that their trial will begin sometime next year, but a specific date has not yet been announced.

Awaiting trial are: Nuon Chea (82) the highest-ranking Khmer Rouge leader still living; Ieng Sary (84) the regime’s foreign minister; Ieng Thirith (78) minister for social affairs and wife of Ieng Sary; and Khieu Samphan (77) who was head of state while the regime was in power.


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