Outrage as Cambodian Holocaust Killer Gets 19 Years

Monday, July 26, 2010

Terence Neilan
, Contributor

"We can't accept a sentence where it is conceivable that he could walk even for one minute in society" - Theary Seng, a founder of the Cambodian Center for Justice and Reconciliation
AOL News (July 26) -- The man who ran a prison and torture center for the Khmer Rouge where more than 15,000 people were killed was convicted today in Cambodia of war crimes and crimes against humanity. But his 19-year prison sentence was met with tears, outrage and disbelief by survivors.

"I felt it was a slap in the face," said Bou Beng, 69, according to The New York Times. He testified about his torture at the trial of Kaing Guek Eav, better known as Duch.

"He tricked everybody," said Chum Mey, 79, another survivor of the Tuol Sleng prison. "I feel like I was a victim under the Khmer Rouge, and now I'm a victim again."

"I can't accept this," said Saodi Ouch, 46. "My family died ... my older sister, my older brother. I'm the only one left," she was quoted as saying by The Associated Press.

Duch, 67, was the first Khmer Rouge figure convicted by a United Nations-backed court in connection with the Cambodian regime that left 1.7 million people dead from 1975 to 1979, either from torture, execution, starvation or overwork.

The regime's leader, Pol Pot, died in 1998, and four other communist Khmer Rouge officials from the "Killing Fields" era are awaiting trial.

An official with the New York-based Human Rights Watch expressed her frustration at the situation to Agence France-Presse. "Up to 2 million Cambodians died during the Khmer Rouge's horrific rule, yet the government is refusing to hold more than five people to account," the news agency was told by the group's Sara Colm.

Duch, a convert to Christianity who pleaded guilty, had a Bible by his side as the verdict was announced and seemed to find it hard to maintain his composure, the Times reported.

As there is no death penalty in Cambodia, the prosecution had asked for a 40-year sentence.

What shocked those in court, and the crowds that gathered outside, was that the judges reduced an initial 35-year sentence by five years because of illegal detention in a military prison and by 11 years for the time Duch had already served. Millions more Cambodians were able to watch the proceedings live on television.

The eventual 19-year sentence raises the possibility that it could be reduced for good behavior and that the man who admitted authorizing the killing of men, women and children could one day be free.

"We can't accept a sentence where it is conceivable that he could walk even for one minute in society," Theary Seng, a founder of the Cambodian Center for Justice and Reconciliation, told AFP. Seng's parents were killed by the Khmer Rouge.

The Khmer Rouge was ousted in a Vietnamese-backed invasion in 1979. Duch disappeared, but was arrested in 1999 when he was found working as a Christian aid worker.

Described as a meticulous record keeper, Duch was asked by a prison guard in a memo he kept what to do with six boys and three girls accused of being traitors. He replied, according to the BBC, "Kill every last one."


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