Kaing Khek Iev, the former chief of the Khmer Rouge’s notorious S-21 torture prison, was charged Tuesday with crimes against humanity and placed in provisional detention by the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, according to an ECCC press release issued Tuesday night.
Better known by his nom de guerre Comrade Duch, Kaing Khek Iev was brought to the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia on Tuesday just after 6 am, court officials said.
He is the first of five suspects identified by tribunal prosecutors earlier this month to be publicly named, said Peter Foster, the tribunal’s UN Public Affairs officer.
Historians say Duch, 62, a former schoolteacher who converted to Christianity after the fall of the Khmer Rouge, oversaw the gruesome torture of some 14,000 prisoners at S-21. He has been held without trial at Phnom Penh’s Military Prison since 1999, following his chance discovery by photojournalist Nic Dunlop.
Ngin Sam An, the Military Court investigating judge assigned to Duch’s case, said that at around 5 am Tuesday officials from the court knocked on the door of his Phnom Penh home and told him that the ECCC had requested that Duch be brought to its headquarters on the outskirts of Phnom Penh.
“I did not know about the request until this morning,” Ngin Sam An said. “The co-investigating judges requested that Duch be transferred. He is no longer under the military court,” he said. “We finished our job,” he added.
Ngin Sam An said Duch betrayed little emotion as he walked silently from his cell to a waiting ECCC vehicle. Duch carried a box with all his clothes and rode in a four-car convoy accompanied by five guards to the tribunal’s headquarters, he said.
“He has been waiting for prosecution a long time,” Ngin Sam An added.
Foster said Duch arrived at the court a little after 6 am for an initial interview with co-investigating judges. A detailed statement on the questioning and possible charges against Duch was planned for release today, he added.
Rupert Skilbeck, the principal defender of the tribunal’s Defense Support Section, said Duch had selected two lawyers for his defense team: Kar Savuth, a Cambodian who has been his lawyer for eight years and has represented Prime Minister Hun Sen, and Francois Roux, a French attorney who was part of the defense team for Zacarias Moussaoui, a French citizen of Moroccan descent who is now serving a life sentence for his involvement in the Sept 11, 2001 terror attacks on the US.
Roux has been practicing law for over 30 years and has taken on four cases of genocide, winning the first not guilty verdict at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, Skilbeck said.
Skilbeck said Roux has been in Cambodia since early this week and filed an application Tuesday with the Bar Association of the Kingdom of Cambodia, which must certify him before he can represent clients at the ECCC.
Until then, he said, Roux can only play an advisory role for Duch and cannot address judges directly.
“Hopefully, he’ll be able to give sufficient assistance to ensure the process is a fair one,” Skilbeck said.
Bar association Secretary-General Ly Tayseng said that the Bar has yet to certify any foreign lawyers to work at the ECCC.
“No foreign lawyers can act for clients before the ECCC at the moment,” he said, adding that Cambodian lawyers can appear before the ECCC without additional certification.
The bar has up to 30 days to evaluate the applications of foreign lawyers. “The Bar Association will try to do it as quickly as possible,” Ly Tayseng added.
Painter Vann Nath, one of the few survivors of S-21, said that Duch’s initial questioning was no remedy for 30 years without justice. “I’m not happy yet,” he said. “I’m waiting to see the result. It has already been too long,” he added.
Kar Savuth and tribunal co-investigating judges You Bun Leng and Marcel Lemonde could not be reached for comment.
(Additional reporting by Prak Chan Thul)