Prosecutors at the Khmer Rouge tribunal have called for Kaing Guek Eav, alias Duch, to receive a life sentence for crimes he committed as chairman of S-21 prison, where as many as 14,000 were murdered under his charge.
In a 65-page appeal filed last week and made public yesterday, the prosecutors said trial judges had given “insufficient weight to the gravity” of Duch’s crimes when they sentenced him in July to 35 years in prison.
Because of deductions for time served and rights violations, the 67-year-old now has less than 19 years left behind bars, a figure that outraged many victims of the regime when it was announced.
“This sentence is manifestly inadequate given the inherent inhumanity of this factory of torture and death that the respondent assisted in establishing and presided over for nearly three years,” the prosecutors wrote.
“Looking at the gravity of the respondent’s crimes, no reasonable trial chamber could have imposed a sentence as low as thirty-five years,” they continued.
They asked instead for a life sentence revised downward to forty-five years to reflect Duch’s unlawful 10-year pretrial detention and a further reduction “as appropriate” for what they called “very limited mitigating circumstances.”
The prosecutors objected strongly to the weight the Trial Chamber gave these circumstances, which included Duch’s professions of remorse and his cooperation with the court. These were largely negated, they argued, by Duch’s dramatic reversal at the end of his trial, which saw him withdraw his guilty plea and ask to be released from custody.
The trial judges themselves already recognized that Duch’s request for release “diminished the extent to which his remorse could otherwise mitigate his guilt,” prosecutors pointed out.
Anne Heindel, a legal adviser at the Documentation Center of Cambodia, called the appeal a “strong, well-argued and reasonable” one that would likely resonate with victims.
“Their stronger arguments are the insufficiency of the gravity of the crimes and the undue weight on mitigating circumstances, particularly when [Duch] changed his plea at the end,” she said. “Even though [judges] did give it a brief mention in the verdict, they didn’t seem to give it as much weight as you would expect.”
The prosecutors also objected to the Trial Chamber’s decision to subsume a number of crimes–including imprisonment, torture, rape and extermination–under the umbrella of “persecution,” rather than entering separate convictions for each.
And they asked the Supreme Court Chamber to convict Duch for the enslavement of all S-21 detainees, not just the tiny number of prisoners assigned to work within the complex.
The appeal also requested a public hearing to debate appeals against the Duch verdict, several more of which are expected to be submitted by the end of November by defense and civil party lawyers.