No punishment is equal to the crimes committed in Cambodia.May justice help with the healing process.
A Cambodian court has been set up to bring former senior leaders of the Khmer Rouge to trial. The UN-backed Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia is prosecuting officials most responsible for planning and directing the horrors of the killing fields. As many as three million people died at the hands of the murderous communist regime. The court outside of Phnom Penh is open to the public and thousands of visitors have attended the proceedings.
Kaing Guek Eav, alias Comrade Duch, headed the infamous S-21 torture prison, where more than 14,000 people perished. The court sentenced Duch to 35 years in prison.
The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia reconvened for Kaing Guek Eav's appeal.
Prosecutors are seeking life imprisonment for Duch, contending the court showed leniency with the original sentence. They say he should be found guilty of enslavement, imprisonment, torture, extermination and other inhumane acts, and be tried for each crime individually.
The defense argues that the court did not have the jurisdiction to try him because he did not serve as a senior leader. They say Duch just followed orders.
Some victims of the brutal Khmer Rouge regime express outrage at any sentence that would let Duch one day walk free.
Hundreds of Cambodians traveled to the court for the opening of the trial. Indictments against Ieng Sary, Ieng Thirith, Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea, "Brother Number Two," include crimes against humanity, genocide, grave breaches of the 1949 Geneva Convention and murder, torture and religious persecution. They all deny the charges against them. The accused appeared in court, looking old and frail. Judges declared Ieng Thirith unfit for trial after experts diagnosed her with dementia. The others are being held in provisional detention. Nuon Chea spoke to the court, laying blame on Vietnam and expressing no remorse. The procedures are expected to take years. The maximum sentence is life in prison.
Two suspects have been put forward for investigation in this highly controversial case. PM Hun Sen and some Tribunal officials object to the case going forward. The suspects have not been named.
In 1979, the People's Revolutionary Tribunal held a genocide trial and found Ieng Sary and Pol Pot guilty of genocide. Neither appeared in court or served any sentence. Pol Pot died in 1998.
I hope the tribunals will bring closure to the victims, like my friend Chanra, and the families who have waited so long for justice. Let the process shine a light on the tragic history of Cambodia and send a message to cruel regimes worldwide.
I scribbled out this post one night, planning to enter it the next day. I wrote it from a journalists point of view. In the morning I received a wake-up message from another killing fields survivor friend of mine overseas who is still struggling with the memories, more than 30 years later. I know that I have no right to tell a story about something I can't possibly understand without having lived it. I have never even been hungry. But I'll do what I can to contribute to a better understanding of what happened in Cambodia. I gave the novel my best effort. Reporters sometimes have to ignore the true atrocities of a story to deliver it. I feel bad about that.