Yin Nean sat inside an office at the Tuol Sleng genocide museum Tuesday while, outside, former S-21 commander Kaing Guek Eav, better known by the name Duch, led court officials, former Khmer Rouge guards and surviving prisoners around the cell blocks he once commanded.
“It is good that he came back here,” said 48-year-old Yin Nean, a guard at the museum.
Yin Nean, who lost his older brother to the Khmer Rouge, said he felt nothing in particular during Duch’s visit, but there are fears that such reconstructions involving victims and perpetrators might prove too emotionally challenging for some.
“My main concern is for the witnesses…. You are asking victims to relive their trauma,” said Khmer Rouge tribunal Co-Prosecutor Robert Petit on Thursday.
From a legal perspective, he said, the site visits to Choeung Ek killing field and Tuol Sleng had been “overall useful.” But from a human perspective, Petit added, “We were all mindful of the effect this might have. We took all measures we could to make this as less traumatizing as possible.”
Petit declined to comment on how Duch, the Khmer Rouge guards who once took his orders, and the S-21 survivors who took part in the visit, comported themselves during the day-long visit.
The Documentation Center of Cambodia had also protested the visits, on the grounds that it might put Duch’s personal safety in jeopardy and undermine the presumption that he is innocent.
DC-Cam Director Youk Chhang also said he feared the visits might be too much for the 65-year-old Duch. “Is it fair? Is it necessary?” he asked.
But reconstructions are not uncommon in civil law.
Tribunal Public Affairs Chief Helen Jarvis said the court took pains to make it clear to witnesses that there would be no brutal reenactments of the alleged crimes now under investigation.
In addition, she said, victims and witnesses were not required to speak with Duch directly; rather judges mediated their interaction.
There were also trained psychologists on hand, and victims and witnesses had the opportunity to leave the scene at any point if they felt overwhelmed, Jarvis said, adding that, to her knowledge, no one left early.
An ambulance was also at the ready outside Tuol Sleng on Tuesday morning, though tribunal spokesman Reach Sambath told reporters that the vehicle was just on standby and that no one had cause to use it.