Emotions Run High at Khmer Rouge Tribunal

Civil parties detail the pain and sorrow endured after losing a loved one at S-21

At times tearful and showing flashes of anger, Robert Hamill described how he imagined the former chairman of S-21, Kaing Guek Eav, as a victim of the brutal tactics he once employed at the Khmer Rouge prison.

“At times, I’ve wanted to smash you, to use your words. In the same way you smashed so many others,” the New Zealander told the ac­cused, alias Duch, in court.

“At times I have imagined you shackled, starved, whipped and clubbed viciously, viciously. I have imagined your scrotum electrified, being forced to eat your own feces, being nearly drowned and having your throat cut. I have wanted that to be your experience, your reality,” he said.

Monday proved to be an emotional day at the Khmer Rouge tribunal with three foreign civil parties heaping scorn on Duch and detailing the pain and sorrow they endured after a loved one was killed at the communist regime’s notorious detention center in Phnom Penh.

Mr Hamill, 45, lost his older brother, Kerry, who was captured in August 1978 while sailing off the coast of Cambodia and taken to S-21. Mr Hamill said his family was tortured by the death, which they learned of 16 months after his brother’s disappearance. Mr Hamill began drinking heavily, his mother became ill and bedridden and his father could no longer continue with his work and retired at an early age. Another older brother ultimately committed suicide, Mr Hamill said.

“Duch, when you killed my brother Kerry, you killed my brother John, as well,” Mr Hamill said in a low voice.

At the end of his deposition, Mr Hamill was able to ask Duch six questions regarding whether the accused remembered his brother or what happened to his burned remains. Duch, however, conceded for some questions he could not offer complete answers and simply did not give direct answers for others.

Mr Hamill said later he was not expecting much from Duch’s responses.

“I wanted to find things out,” he said outside the courtroom. “I didn’t get any enlightenment as I said and the expectations were relatively low but you had to try.”

Another civil party Martine Lefeuvre spoke of her grief when she discovered her Cambodian husband, who vanished without a trace inside Cambodia in the late 1970s, had become a victim of the regime.

“He died a slow death at S-21,” she said. “This is an absolutely inexcusable murder.”

A French national, Mrs Lefeuvre said she first learned of the death of her husband, Ouk Ket, in 1980 after the fall of the communist regime from friends she tracked down at a refugee camp in Thailand. Her husband’s death was confirmed again later when the family found his name on a list of roughly 300 people “exterminated” at S-21 on Dec 9, 1977.

Her two young children would ask frequently when they would see their father, “And I must tell them no, they will never see their daddy again,” she said while choking back tears.

The daughter of Mrs Lefeuvre, 34-year-old Ouk Neary, also gave a disposition, calling the accused a “cynical, bloodthirsty brute” and saying he “represents the shame of the human race.”

Duch asked for forgiveness from Mrs Lefeuvre as well as accepted responsibility for the crimes carried out at his detention center.

“The nation of Cambodia can point their finger to me. They can curse me, they can punish me however they wish to do so,” Duch said. “And I would like to seek forgiveness from Madame Lefeuvre and other people who have lost their loved ones during the regime.”

When asked if she could forgive those who tortured and killed her husband, Mrs Lefeuvre said, for the time being, that was not possible.

“At this moment, no. Forgiveness is a process,” she told Civil Party Lawyer Fabienne Trusse-Naprous. “They destroyed our life and that is unpardonable, inexcusable.”

 

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