Civil Parties of S-21 Seek Truer Recompense

Seeking some tangible compensation for their clients, lawyers for victims of the Khmer Rouge secret police appeared before the Khmer Rouge tribunal a final time yesterday, saying the victims’ suffering had not been justly recognized.

The tribunal’s appeals chamber yesterday concluded hearings for oral arguments against July’s trial judgment, which held S-21 Chair­man Kaing Guek Eav, alias Duch, responsible for the many thousands killed by the Khmer Rouge secret police and ordered him to serve 30 years in prison.

Defending their appeals, the victims’ lawyers also argued in favor of 22 people whose claims for recognition were rejected for lack of evidence at the last minute with the verdict’s delivery.

Even the 66 who were recognized as civil parties were left bitterly disappointed last year by the reparations the court’s Trial Cham­ber gave them: the inclusion of their names in the trial judgment and the publication of all Duch’s courtroom apologies.

Their lawyers asked yesterday for far more extensive reparations, in­cluding memorial stupas and free medical care.

The last day of appeal hearings focused less on legal arguments than on human ones, as civil party lawy­ers urged the Sup­reme Court Cham­ber to look toward the court’s legacy and its meaning to Cambodia.

Increasingly sharp sallies also occurred between Duch’s lawyers and those representing his victims before the S-21 prison chief himself made a 15-minute statement.

Reading from copious notes that he had scribbled as civil party lawyers spoke, Duch laid out his thoughts on his own criminal responsibility in meticulous detail, referring to court documents, Deng Xiaoping’s speeches and an entry in a French dictionary.

He repeated the same argument made Monday by his lawyers: that the head of a Khmer Rouge security center was too low ranking to be prosecuted.

“It is true that the senior leaders who are the most responsible persons were others, not me,” he said.

Although he accepted responsibility for the mass torture and murder committed under his command, and asked once again for his victims’ forgiveness, he maintained that the court had no right to try him and even suggested that his continued detention could hinder national reconciliation.

Duch ended by asking judges to acquit him and “seek justice and truth for the Cambodian people, as well as for the former Khmer Rouge soldiers and cadres, especially the middle class who do not fall within the jurisdiction of this tribunal.”

His speech rang hollow to many of his victims and their lawyers, who had spent the better part of the day discussing how his cruelty had caused them great suffering.

“I don’t want to make fun of his statement, but it’s just insane,” said Bou Meng, a civil party and one of only a handful of S-21 survivors. “He is just putting blame on other senior leaders of Democratic Kampuchea who are not alive.”

“After listening to his statement, it brought me more pain,” added Nam Mon, who is appealing her rejection as a civil party.

The statement also underscored a key argument made by civil party lawyers yesterday: the fact that Duch’s apologies had become meaningless in the face of his 11th-hour plea for acquittal and release on the last day of his trial.

French civil party lawyer Philippe Cannone said Duch’s insistence since that day that he was not legally responsible for his crimes had effectively erased one of the civil parties’ only avenues of reparation.

“Where is Duch today?” he asked. “In what abyss has he vanished? What dreadful logic has he agreed to follow? Refusing to admit his position as the main person responsible for the atrocities is tantamount to severing all ties with the victims, to annihilating them, to killing them.”

Civil parties presented detailed proposals for memorials, stupas and engraved plaques that they said would serve as more effective reparations. German lawyer Silke Studzinsky proposed other avenues of funding, including channeling entrance fees to the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum into a trust fund. She also suggested Duch could borrow the money or write his memoirs in prison.

Lawyers yesterday also protested the last-minute exclusion of many of their clients from civil party status, a development that surprised victims and trial observers alike.

“This was most unpalatable, this was a shock, and there should be no confusion: It has caused distress to individuals who we say have already been traumatized once by the actions of the convicted person,” said British lawyer Karim Khan, nine of whose clients were rejected.

Most victims were at first admitted on a provisional basis subject to confirmation later. But civil party lawyers say that “two-pronged” process was never made clear to victims and that the court’s rules did not warrant it.

Morn Sothea, 46, who is appealing his rejection as a civil party, says his mother and two brothers died at S-21. Trial judges ruled that there was no evidence linking his family members to the prison.

“We saw their photos and names in the lists for victims killed at S-21,” he said. “I was hopeless after hearing my file was rejected. I hope the Supreme Court will thoughtfully consider and accept my file.”

Duch’s lawyers provided a spirited if disjointed rebuttal to the civil parties, saying that despite the victims’ courage and suffering, documentary evidence of their claims was still necessary. They also reiterated their position that they did not accept the court’s jurisdiction over Duch.

Near the end of the day, the tone of their arguments drew a strong rebuke from Ms Studzinsky, who said their shouting and smiling had disturbed victims who were watching from the public gallery.

“Please behave in dignity,” she said.

Judges are expected to issue a final ruling on the case later this year.

 

 

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