The Interior Ministry’s general department of prisons has asked the Khmer Rouge tribunal to fund the construction of a private jail cell for war crimes convict Kaing Guek Eav, as well as paying for his health care and food.
The issue was raised at a Feb. 22 meeting between the country’s prisons officials and the tribunal’s co-prosecutors, who are responsible for implementing the life sentence that Kaing Guek Eav, alias Duch, was handed last month.
Nothing in the tribunal’s internal rules or its founding agreement between the U.N. and the government specifically addresses post-conviction imprisonment conditions for the former Khmer Rouge regime leaders. But it has always been envisioned that the court’s detainees would be transferred to a Cambodian prison to serve out their sentences. The tribunal is set to wind down its operations—including the provisional detention facility it maintains—by 2018.
But even the tribunal’s prosecutors want Duch to be housed in a prison that meets minimum international standards, a demand that would appear to exclude every Cambodian prison that currently exists.
According to human rights workers, inmates at Phnom Penh’s Prey Sar prison, where Duch was once believed to be headed, sleep skin-to-skin in crowded cells, bathe in water drawn from wells and ponds, must pay guards to provide them with the bare necessities of life, and depend on their families for adequate food.
During their meeting last month, the tribunal’s prosecutors told the government that the court itself had no money to fund Duch’s future upkeep or build a personal prison cell, but would appeal for funds from outside sources, according to Kuy Bunsorn, director general of the prisons department.
“We told them that we didn’t have an individual cell, so the ECCC [Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia] should help contribute money for building an individual cell, or cover the cost to renovate a cell,” Mr. Bunsorn said.
“Of course we are concerned about international standards, but we need to look into the reality of the overcrowding situation in Cambodia’s prisons,” he said. “We detain at least 15 and sometimes up to 40 prisoners in each cell.”
The government is also demanding that the ECCC cover the entire cost of feeding Duch and providing him with medical care for the rest of his life behind bars.
“Since we suggested to them to split the responsibility in providing treatment of international standards for Duch at that meeting, we haven’t received any official response from the ECCC,” Mr. Bunsorn said.
According to tribunal spokesman Lars Olsen, the government has not yet formally communicated such a request to the court. “Therefore there is nothing to comment about,” he said.
Tribunal Deputy Co-Prosecutor William Smith said he could not comment on the government’s request for funds for Duch’s prison because negotiations are still ongoing.
“The co-prosecutors are working with the International Committee of the Red Cross to determine what the international standards are and to ensure that they comply with that,” he added.
Duch’s lawyers, meanwhile, have demanded that he be kept at the tribunal’s detention facility for the duration of his life sentence because he is a “prisoner of conscience.”
“There are two key reasons for not transferring him to a civil prison: first, he is a prisoner of conscience, and second, he cannot be detained with other normal prisoners in case he spreads his ideology to other prisoners,” defense lawyer Kang Ritheary said.
“They are prisoners of conscience because they wanted society to be good. Duch and the other accused were not prisoners [because of] robberies or rapes. They didn’t do anything wrong for their own interests, or that of their wives, children and relatives,” he said.
Mr. Ritheary added that prosecutors had told him they plan to keep Duch detained at the ECCC until the end of Case 002, which could drag on in appeals until 2018.
Prosecutors have already requested that Duch stay at the court’s detention facility until he is no longer needed as a witness in Case 002. Mr. Smith said he was not aware of any plans to keep Duch there for the duration of the case.
At the UN’s war crimes tribunals in Yugoslavia and Rwanda, convicts are transferred to national prisons in other “host” countries after exhausting all avenues of appeal, said Clair Duffy, a lawyer who monitors the tribunal for the Open Society Justice Initiative. These countries, which include Benin, Mali, Norway and Austria, sign agreements that they will house the prisoners in accordance with minimum international standards.
“Generally the agreements…require the host state to bear the cost of housing the prisoner…but if there is a need to upgrade the facilities so that they comply with international standards, the tribunal (in this case the ECCC) could seek financial assistance from donors to do that,” she said in an e-mail.