Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Judgment on S-21

July 27, 2010

Slight, well-kempt and dressed in khakis and a powder-blue shirt, the man sitting in the dock cut the image of a schoolteacher. Indeed he once taught maths—in the years before he assumed control of a centre where more than 14,000 men, women and children were imprisoned, tortured and then transmitted to “the killing fields”. The defendant, Kaing Guek Eav, better known as Comrade Duch, was the commandant of the Khmers Rouges’ infamous S-21 detention centre. On Monday, a UN-backed tribunal found him guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Duch is now 67 years old. On July 26th he was sentenced to 35 years imprisonment, effectively reduced to 19 years, against time already served and in compensation for a period of illegal detention by a military court. Reading a prepared statement, a judge told a courtroom packed with journalists and observers, including the hundreds of the regime’s surviving victims, that Duch’s offenses were “shocking and heinous”. But the judge also described considerations that he said argued against the maximum punishment of life in prison: that Duch had been following orders within a coercive climate, that he expressed some remorse, and that he co-operated with the tribunal and showed a potential for rehabilitation. The prosecutors had sought 40 years. Cambodia no longer uses the death penalty.