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Duch sentenced

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27 July 2010 08:50

As previewed, Kaing Guek Eav (better known as Duch) the director of the Tuol Sleng extermination centre (known as S-21 during the Pol Pot regime) was sentenced to 35 years imprisonment for crimes against humanity by the judges of Cambodia's Khmer Rouge Tribunal (ECCC) on 26 July.

 The key paragraph of the tribunal's press release recording the sentence is:

KAING Guek Eav was convicted of crimes against humanity (persecution on political grounds) (incorporating various other crimes against humanity, including extermination, imprisonment and torture), as well as numerous grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions of 1949, for which, by a majority, the Chamber imposed a single, consolidated sentence of 35 (thirty-five) years of imprisonment.

In deciding on an appropriate sentence, the Chamber noted a number of aggravating features, in particular the gravity of the offences, which were perpetrated against at least 12,272 victims over a prolonged period.

But according to news reports, the tribunal has taken account of the eleven years Duch has already spent in custody and of the fact that for a period he was illegally detained before coming under United Nations jurisdiction. As a result of these considerations and his admissions of guilt, the period that Duch is actually condemned to serve is nineteen years.

This means that Duch, currently aged 67, will be due for release in 2029 at the age of 86, should he live that long. There are already Cambodian commentators who are sharply critical of the verdict, not least because there was a widespread belief in the country that Duch would be sentenced to life imprisonment. And it is possible that the prosecution, which had called for a sentence of forty years, might appeal the verdict.

While Duch's sentencing has been a media event with a large foreign press corps present in Phnom Penh, it is worth remembering several important facts that risk being forgotten. Most importantly, the awfulness of Duch's crimes should not detract from the fact that he was, in terms of the nature of the Pol Pot regime, a minor figure so far as the formulation of policy was concerned, essentially a functionary.

It is the other four defendants in custody and awaiting their trials (Khieu Samphan, the former head of state; Nuon Chea, the regime's chief ideologue known as Brother Number Two; Ieng Sary, the regime's foreign minister; and Khieu (or Ieng) Thirith, former minister for social affairs) who might be expected to throw light on the regime's inner workings.

That is provided they remain alive and are ready to testify in a truthful fashion. Given their age and indifferent health and the fact that their trials are unlikely to begin before 2012, they may never be brought to justice. And, of course, Pol Pot himself died in 1998 before ever being brought to a proper trial.

One final point is worth making. This is the fact that we know a remarkably large amount about Duch both before and during his role in the Pol Pot regime. For anyone with an interest in his life, the material contained in Francois Bizot's, The Gate, David Chandler's Voices from S-21 Nick Dunlop's, The Lost Executioner, and Philip Short's Pol Pot: The History of A Nightmare, all of which predate Duch's trial, are well worth consulting.

Photo by Flickr user may the circle remain unbroken's photostream, used under a Creative Commons license.