KR Tribunal Indicts Duch for Tuol Sleng Crimes

The former director of S-21, a secret Khmer Rouge detention center where more than 12,000 Cambodi­an lives were violently and brutally ended, is to stand trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity, the Khmer Rouge tribunal an­nounced Tuesday.

Handed down Friday by the court’s co-investigating judges, the indictment is the first to be suffered by the defunct Khmer Rouge movement and would bring an end to the nine-year pretrial detention of Kaing Guek Eav, alias Duch, who was arrested in May of 1999 and transferred to the tribunal a year ago.

The indictment follows a 10-month judicial investigation during which Duch, 65, admitted responsibility for the crimes committed at S-21, implicated other Khmer Rouge officials, confronted victims and helped judges to reconstruct events at both the Choeung Ek killing fields and S-21, the headquarters of a special branch of Democratic Kampuchea’s secret police.

Duch’s French defense lawyer Francois Roux said Tuesday that the indictment of his client for war crimes and crimes against humanity was to be expected.

“He was charged with that and he has been indicted for that. We are within the logic of what was said and done during the investigation,” he said by telephone from Montpellier, France.

The court is prepared to begin a trial as early as next month, though the five-judge Trial Chamber has yet to set a date, according to Peter Foster, the court’s UN spokesman. The indictment is open to appeal by the prosecution.

According to a 45-page redacted version of the indictment which was released Tuesday, Duch “has consistently recognized his responsibility.”

“He explained that he was led to speak out in 1999 because ‘it was impossible not to tell the truth about S-21’ after he heard that ‘Pol Pot denied the existence of S-21 and claimed that it was an invention of the Vietnamese,’” Co-Investigating Judges You Bunleng and Marcel Lemonde wrote.

“He stated that none of his personnel were volunteers, or proud of what they had done, but rather terrorized and constantly in fear for their lives,” they added.

Artist Vann Nath, who became one of only a handful of survivors of S-21 because he was employed painting portraits of Pol Pot, said Tuesday that Duch’s indictment had been a long time in coming.

“I have been waiting for 30 years already. This is not empty hands. We will get justice,” he said. “We will know soon about the reasons.”

In what has become an emblem of Khmer Rouge atrocities, the site of the former S-21 in Phnom Penh’s Chamkar Mon district, now known as the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, houses row upon row of photographs of murdered detainees whose details were meticulously catalogued upon arrival.

Judges Lemonde and You Bunleng wrote that Tuol Sleng was created as a result of a meeting between Khmer Rouge Defense Minister Son Sen, Duch and an unidentified person who gathered at Phnom Penh’s train terminal in August of 1975.

Duch would go on to exercise complete control over S-21 for two years and ten months, they said. The center was divided into distinct units for defense, interrogation, documentation, photography, medicine and cooking, they said.

Detainees were suspected political enemies brought to the prison from increasingly distant locations throughout Cambodia. The regime’s policy was to interrogate and eliminate detainees and to circulate their so-called confessions among the regime’s senior leaders.

In interviews with investigators, Duch was initially reluctant to admit to the use of torture techniques other than beating, though he admitted to the practice of removing toenails and fingernails, according to the indictment.

Evidence and testimony indicate that detainees were force-fed human excrement, had their genitals and earlobes shocked with electricity, or had their heads submerged in water, the judges wrote.

Evidence also indicates that medical experiments, including medical tests and autopsies on living persons, were performed at S-21, and that as many as 1,000 people were executed by the removal of their blood.

An execution log recorded the killing of 160 children in a single day in July, 1977, at Choeung Ek, 15 km outside of Phnom Penh, where the bulk of S-21’s over 12,380 executions were carried out, the judges found.

However, the circumstances of the regime’s collapse and the passage of time make it difficult to determine precisely how many were killed at that location, they added.

(Additional reporting by Prak Chan Thul)


Related Stories

Latest News