Vietnamese archival films depicting the interior of Tuol Sleng prison in days after the 1979 liberation of Phnom Penh and the rescue of detained infants should be held in evidence at the approaching trial of former S-21 Chairman Kaing Guek Eav, according prosecutors at the Khmer Rouge tribunal.
Unearthed by the Documentation Center of Cambodia, the footage only came to light in December, a week after prosecutors had already submitted final lists of evidence and seven months after the close of the investigation into alleged atrocities at S-21, the special branch of the former Khmer Rouge secret police that investigators say exterminated at least 12,380 men, women and children.
In a pleading distributed to the media on Friday, prosecutors asked the court’s newly convened Trial Chamber to accept the footage, filmed three days after the fall of the regime, as evidence because it is “the only film footage known to have been taken of Tuol Sleng that close in time to the period when it was used as a prison.”
DC-Cam Director Youk Chhang in December revealed the existence of the films, saying that the Vietnamese state archives had that month donated 470 minutes of footage shot between 1973 and 1984, which recorded, among other things, the actions of Chairman of the State Presidium Khieu Samphan, combat between Khmer Rouge and Vietnamese forces in 1977 and a glimpse of Tuol Sleng on Jan 10, 1979.
Witness testimony and documents collected during the Co-Investigating Judges’ 10-month investigation of S-21, which concluded in May of last year, already indicates that children were among the alleged victims of Kaing Guek Eav, alias Duch.
An analysis by prosecutors of the 5,183 existing photographs of S-21 detainees found that three percent of those depicted were children. A log of executions at the Choeung Ek killing fields, where the bulk of S-21 detainees died, shows that 160 children were killed in a single day in July of 1977.
Children were typically detained and killed shortly after the arrest of the parents, according to investigators.
Former S-21 personnel told investigators that children were killed by being dropped from a third-story window and then buried 100 meters north of the main compound at Tuol Sleng.
International Deputy Co-Prosecutor William Smith said Friday the video imagery provided by Vietnam would provide powerful corroboration of evidence gathered so far.
“[A]s the video was taken almost immediately after the crimes occurred, it provides a first-hand, real-time account of the conditions that existed at S-21 on the Vietnamese troops’ arrival,” he wrote in an e-mail.
Francois Roux, Duch’s French defense lawyer, said Friday he had not seen the films and declined to comment.
According to the pleading dated Wednesday, prosecutors believe two segments of the footage are of particular importance to the S-21 trial.
A silent, black-and-white film of 7 minutes and 35 seconds shows the interior of the compound and cells as well as “restraint devices within the S-21 central compound and decapitated corpses chained to beds in Building A.”
Another silent, black-and-white film of 4 minutes shows Vietnamese soldiers removing two live infants and two live children from Tuol Sleng.
“[T]he infants seen in the film appear to be in very poor health, supporting the charge that conditions inside S-21 were inhumane,” Deputy Co-Prosecutors Smith and Yet Chakriya wrote.
This is the second time DC-Cam has disclosed new evidence concerning the operations of S-21 after the conclusion of the investigation.
Two weeks after Duch’s indictment, DC-CAM announced that S-21 records indicate that it had released 177 people, even though judicial investigators had found that no one detained was ever allowed to leave.
Smith said Friday that this is not an indication that the tribunal has not thoroughly investigated S-21.
“The fact that new evidence arises shortly before or during trial does not make the investigation incomplete but is an indicator that the judicial process is having a real effect on the community,” he wrote in an email.
“[A]s for the new information or evidence of releases of S-21 detainees those facts are still under investigation, the findings would of course be relevant to the hearing,” he added.
“[T]he substantiation of any releases at S-21 is unlikely to change the way people understand S-21, the evidence is prolific that the security center was an institution designed to torture and kill its prisoners.”