Emotional statements from civil parties continued to dominate proceedings at the Khmer Rouge tribunal yesterday as the daughter of a well-known law professor who was murdered at Tuol Sleng confronted Kaing Guek Eav, alias Duch, demanding that he provide information about her father’s killing in order to bring closure to her family.
In nearly three hours of remarks, Phung Guth Sunthary, 53, remembered her father, Phung Ton, the former rector of the University of Phnom Penh, as a beloved role model to his seven children. She spoke at length of her family’s desperation when they learned of Mr Ton’s death, referring to the loss as “a wound that cannot be cured.”
“Every time I talk about it, my throat seems to be stuck by something, and I am never fed up with weeping,” she said.
After delivering her statement, Ms Guth Sunthary posed several questions to Duch about the circumstances of her father’s death, questions that Duch claimed not to know the answers to.
“The accused said he was willing to cooperate with the court, but I have been here in the court for the last few months, and I can see how tricky this person is.” she said. “The accused, of course, knows the questions and the responses to my questions, so if he will not be able to respond to my questions, how could he have become the chairman of S-21? The chairman of S-21 was not a kind of coward,” she added.
“If the accused does not want to respond to my questions, I think it is best that the accused never ever say that he is remorseful,” she told the court before asking Duch directly, “Who made the decision to kill my father on July 6, 1977?”
“If I am asked who made the decision for the killing, I have no documents to base my response on, so I really cannot fulfill the anxiety to know this fact,” Duch responded, claiming that he hadn’t even known that the professor had been a prisoner at S-21 until recently.
While Duch steadfastly denied having played any part in the death of Mr Ton, a man he said he admired, he did admit that he gave preferential treatment to certain S-21 prisoners, including Chau Seng, a progressive politician who founded the pedagogical institute where Duch studied. Duch said that had he known of Mr Ton’s imprisonment, the professor would also have received special privileges.
“I regretted if I knew my professor was sent there, because I would not ask for him to be spared, but he would be able to live in a greater position because of my gratitude for him,” Duch explained. “[Chau Seng] was sent to S-21 and after his interrogation I ordered him to be left separately, and that he was given decent food and accommodation…. For my professor, I did not know of his detention, and I did not know he was suffering from insufficient food and living conditions.”
Duch emphasized his respect for Mr Ton, saying that the professor was one of only three victims of S-21 to whom he sincerely wanted to express his condolences. At the same time, Duch cast doubt on the timeline of events that Ms Guth Sunthary had laid out in court, even questioning whether her father had been at Tuol Sleng during the time that he was in charge of the prison.
“Of course I do not deny that he was there, but we can question more on the dates, which are inconsistent,” Duch said. “Only Mam Nai is the only person who can actually shed light on the exact dates, if he is willing to do so,” he added, referring to S-21’s chief interrogator.
“So can you preserve your own stance and do research together in order to find out the truth?” he then asked Ms Guth Sunthary provocatively.
Mr Ton’s wife, Im Sunthy, 70, also gave a statement yesterday, dabbing back tears as she described her husband as a driven but humble man who was devoted to his family and his legal scholarship. Her 20-year marriage, she said, was an exceptionally close one.
“It’s a kind of tremendous grief,” Ms Sunthy concluded at the end of her testimony, “and I don’t know how I can really put this into words, to explain or to describe to the chamber to understand how huge this suffering I have, having lost my loving husband. It has been more than 30 years, but time only intensified my grief. I have never been happy.”