The first trial of a Khmer Rouge official got underway today at a United Nations-backed tribunal, three decades after hundreds of thousands of Cambodians died as a result of atrocities committed by the regime.
Kaing Guek Eav, whose alias is “Duch”, faces charges of crimes against humanity, grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions, in addition to the offences of homicide and torture under Cambodian criminal law.
Duch has been indicted by the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) in Phnom Penh in relation to alleged offences committed while he was chief of the notorious S-21 camp, also known as Toul Sleng, where numerous Cambodians were unlawfully detained, subjected to inhumane conditions and forced labour, tortured and executed in the late 1970s.
“The Cambodian people have waited 30 years for this day, to find justice for the suffering in which over a third of the population perished,” said Tony Kranh, the ECCC’s acting Director of Administration.
Estimates vary but as many as two million are thought to have died during the rule of the Khmer Rouge between 1975 and 1979, which was then followed by a protracted period of civil war in the impoverished South-East Asian country.
“This is an historic moment and an important step towards bringing about accountability for crimes and providing justice for the accused and victims of atrocities committed during the Democratic Kampuchea regime in the late 70s,” added Knut Rosandhaug, the Deputy Director of the ECCC, and Coordinator of the UN Assistance to the Khmer Rouge Trials (UNAKRT).
Today’s initial hearing signals the formal commencement of Kaing Guek Eav’s trial, which will be followed by a hearing on the substance of the allegations made against him. It also finalized the scheduling of witnesses and experts to be heard at the trial.
The ECCC, established in 2003 under an agreement between the UN and Cambodia, is tasked with trying senior leaders and those most responsible for serious violations of Cambodian and international law committed during the Khmer Rouge rule. It is staffed by a mixture of Cambodian and international employees and judges.