Khmer Rouge jailer’s sentence stirs outrage
Key player in genocide of 16,000 faces 19 years
PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — A war crimes tribunal sentenced the Khmer Rouge’s chief jailer Monday to a prison term that will see him serve less than half a day for every person killed at the notorious torture center he commanded.
Survivors expressed anger and disbelief that a key player in the genocide that wiped out a quarter of Cambodia’s population could one day walk free — despite being convicted of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
“I can’t accept this,” said Saodi Ouch, 46, shaking so hard she could hardly talk. “My family died … my older sister, my older brother. I’m the only one left.” Kaing Guek Eav, known as Duch, was the first major Khmer Rouge figure to face trial more than three decades after the “killing fields” regime tried to turn the country into a vast agrarian society — leading to the deaths of 1.7 million people.
As commander of the top secret Tuol Sleng prison — code-named S-21 — the 67-year-old Duch admitted to overseeing the torture and deaths of as many as 16,000 people.
He was sentenced to 35 years in prison but will spend only 19 in jail — 11 years were shaved off for time served and another five for illegal detention in a military prison.
“It is just unacceptable to have a man who killed thousands of people serv- ing just 19 years,” said Theary Seng, a human rights lawyer, who lost both her parents to the Khmer Rouge and has been working with other victims to find justice.
“It comes down to serving 111⁄ hours
2 per life that he took,” she said, adding that if prosecutors could get only such a lenient sentence in a case in which the defendant admitted his guilt, they could expect even less in the upcoming trial of four senior Khmer Rouge figures.
The U.N.-backed tribunal is scheduled to try the group’s top ideologist, Nuon Chea, 84; its former head of state, Khieu Samphan, 79; and two other top leaders, both in their 80s, early next year. Unlike Duch, they have denied any guilt.
Several other major figures have died, including the Khmer Rouge leader, Pol Pot, in 1998.
Judges said that in handing down their verdict Monday, they took into consideration the historical context of the atrocities: The 1975-79 regime was the product of the Cold War times.
They also recognized that Duch — unlike any of the others in detention — was not in the Khmer Rouge’s inner circle, had cooperated with the court and shown expressions of remorse, however “limited.”
But they rejected claims that he was acting on orders from the top or that he was a “cog in the machine” who could not get out.
“In carrying out his functions, he showed a high degree of efficiency and zeal,” the judges wrote. “He worked tirelessly to ensure that S-21 ran as efficiently as possible and did so out of unquestioning loyalty to his superiors.”
Duch revealed little emotion throughout the 77-day trial.
Kaing Guek Eav