28 July, 2010

The killing fields of Cambodia - "justice" at last ?

Appalling cruelty from one individual to his fellow men seems to be endemic in the human race.  This was never more so than in Cambodia (formerly Kampuchea) under the Khmer Rouge regime of the 1970s.

From 1975 to 1979 the S-21 Security Centre operated in Cambodia.  Over 12,000 people were ruthlessly killed by the Khmer Rouge regime.  The leader of S-21, an appalling individual called Kaing Guek Eav (alias Duch), has been sentenced to 35 years imprisonment for his prominent role in these atrocities which amounted to crimes against humanity and grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions 1949.  See The Guardian 25th July 2010.

He was sentenced by the "Extraordinary Chamber in the Courts of Cambodia" which is a national court but United Nations appointed judges and prosecutors were used.

In passing the sentence, the court found that there was mitigation: co-operation with the Chamber; admission of responsibility; limited expressions of remorse and the coercive atmosphere in the country at the time and potential for rehabilitation.  The informed reader may well doubt some of those and, even if they are accepted, the reader may well feel that the immense seriousness of his criminality merited nothing less than the remainder of his life in prison.  It is little wonder that the few known survivors are unhappy with the outcome - see BBC "Tears and Disbelief at his sentence".  The court's statement may be read on their website - see here.

It is reported that Duch will appeal against his sentence - BBC 28th July.  This may be his right but it hardly shows a jot of remorse.

Addendum 30th July:   A film "Enemies of the People" deals with aspects of the Khmer Rouge regime in Kampuchea.  The film is co-directed by Thet Sambath.  An interesting and rather moving article appeared in The Guardian 27th July and see also New York Times 29th July.  Thet Sambath's views about justice not being vindictive are very powerful.  In Cambodia there is a museum at Tuol Seng dedicated to the genocide which took place.

Addendum 28th March 2011:   The appeal by Eav against his sentence has commenced.  In a heavily criticised move, it has already been commuted to 19 years imprisonment - The Guardian 28th March 2011.

Addendum 2nd February 2012:  Eav's sentence was increased to life imprisonment to reflect to gravity of his offending - BBC 2nd February 2012.