Notorious Khmer Rouge commander on trial in Cambodia

One of Cambodia’s most notorious suspected killers still alive finally faced trial on Monday for crimes committed while he was a Khmer Rouge commander 30 years ago.

Kaing Guek Eav, also known as Duch, is charged with crimes against humanity and war crimes, as well as murder and torture. It is the first trial by the “Extraordinary Chambers” set up to try those most responsible for the mass killings and other atrocities that took place in Cambodia in the 1970s under Khmer Rouge rule.

A packed courtroom testified to the importance of the trial. Victims, students, NGO workers including Amnesty International and a massive media presence had gathered for the first day of the substantive hearing, in which court staff read out the 45-page indictment, a catalogue of gruesome crimes of which Duch is accused.

Amnesty International has urged the Extraordinary Chambers to use this landmark case as a springboard to bring more Khmer Rouge suspected war criminals to justice.

“We welcomed the opening of the first trial in the Extraordinary Chambers. Finally, the Cambodian people could see one of the most notorious Khmer Rouge leaders face trial. But many more need to face the court to really deliver justice to the millions of victims of these horrific crimes,” said Brittis Edman, Amnesty International’s Cambodia researcher.

Only four other detained suspects – all leading members of the Khmer Rouge government – are set for trial by the Extraordinary Chambers. However, the scope of the charges against them does not address the majority of the crimes under the jurisdiction of the Extraordinary Chambers.

“The Extraordinary Chambers must urgently expand its prosecution strategy to investigate and prosecute more cases before it is too late,” said Brittis Edman. “These cases should represent the wide range of crimes committed and communities and groups affected.”

“Many of the victims and the suspect are elderly. There is a real risk that many will die before the victims finally see justice for the crimes they and their relatives were subjected to.

The Cambodian justice system needs significant reform before it can effectively prosecute Khmer Rouge crimes, so the Extraordinary Chambers are the only hope that many of these elderly victims have for justice.

The Khmer Rouge’s notorious leader, Saloth Sar – more commonly known as Pol Pot – died in 1998 without facing trial.

Amnesty International has also called on the UN and Cambodian government to address the serious corruption allegations that have been levelled at the Extraordinary Chambers.

It has been alleged that Cambodian staff have been required to pay “kickbacks” to officials following their appointment to the Extraordinary Chambers – casting serious doubts on the Chambers’ competence, independence and impartiality.   

“Any corruption allegations must be investigated promptly and thoroughly by a competent authority,” said Brittis Edman. “A failure to do so risks undermining the credibility of the whole institution and what it is trying to accomplish.”