Friday, February 03, 2012

Khmer Rouge Jailer Duch's Sentence Increased by Cambodia Court

The Guardian (UK)
February 3, 2012.

Kaing Guek Eav given life after both sides appealed against 35-year term for 'killing fields' slaughter of 12,000 people

Khmer Rouge jailer Kaing Guek Eav, known as Duch, at 
the hearing at which his sentence was increased 
from 35 years to life. (Photograph: Reuters)

The Khmer Rouge tribunal's supreme court has ordered the regime's chief jailer to serve out the rest of his life in prison because of his "shocking and heinous" crimes against the Cambodian people.

The surprise ruling increased a lower court's 19-year sentence against which prosecutors had appealed as too lenient and by the convicted man as too harsh. Survivors had feared the man who oversaw the killings of thousands could one day walk free.

Kaing Guek Eav, known as Duch, was commander of the top-secret Tuol Sleng prison codenamed S-21. He has admitted to overseeing the torture of prisoners before sending them for execution at the "killing fields".

In July 2010 the tribunal's lower court convicted Duch of war crimes, crimes against humanity, torture and murder.

He was sentenced to 35 years in prison but had his sentence reduced by 11 years for time served and other technicalities.

The sentence was appealed against by both prosecutors who called for life imprisonment and by Duch who argued it was too harsh because he was merely following orders.

The appeal judge said the upper court felt the penalty should be more severe because the former jailer was responsible for the brutal deaths of so many. The tribunal says Duch oversaw the killing of at least 12,272 victims but some estimates have placed the number as high as 16,000.

"The crimes of Kaing Guek Eav were of a particularly shocking and heinous character based on the number of people who were proven to have been killed," the judge said.

The 69-year-old Duch stood calmly without emotion as the sentence was read.

He then pressed his palms together and pulled them to his chest in a show of respect to the judge, before being led away by court guards. The ruling was final with no other chance for appeal.

The tribunal is seeking justice for an estimated 1.7 million people who died from torture, starvation, exhaustion or lack of medical care during the Khmer Rouge's rule in the 1970s.

Three senior Khmer Rouge figures are on trial in what is known as Case 002. Unlike Duch, who admitted his role and asked for forgiveness, the others claim no wrongdoing.

They are 85-year-old Nuon Chea, the Khmer Rouge's chief ideologist and second in charge; 80-year-old Khieu Samphan, an ex-head of state; and 86-year-old Ieng Sary, the former foreign minister. They are accused of crimes against humanity, genocide, religious persecution, homicide and torture.

Comment: The past is never solved but to make sense of an ugly past a confrontation is necessary.  Obscuring an ugly past, playing down its relevance, or flatly denying its burden is simply destructive.

This week I completed an invited chapter entitled "Making Sense of an Ugly Past" in which I tried to conceptualize an interdisciplinary theoretical framework for confronting chronic traumas like mass extermination, genocide, slavery, racism, casteism, etc.

This emphasis/interest is something I have been working on since the late 90s when we were watching the work of South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) closely.

More than a decade has passed since the TRC concluded its work and we are no closer to knowing if any confrontation can 'solve' the past.

The truth is - if there must be a truth - that confronting the past is not about solving what happened.  It is, rather, about making sense of what happened.

Any trauma, whether leveled at the individual or a group (the nation), must be processed in a manner that integrates the ugliness it represents into the socio-political and psychological make-up of victims.

We confront the past as a project of re-imagining or re-inventing ourselves.  This project is as much about reaffirming our humanity and its frailty as it is about setting moral and ethical boundaries about what is acceptable and what is not.

In effect, we learn from the past by being critical about what it means.  And that learning never stops.

Future generations in Cambodia, just like in South Africa, will have to make sense of the ugliness of the past.  It is the predicament of being human in a world of constructed and contested realities.

For this reason, I like the notion and option of unlimited second chances in life.



Charmaine said...

Your articles on confronting trauma with Art Neal are inspiring. You guys redefined the academic area. Others are just now catching up. Ridwan you opened my mind to "re-imagine my world" like you say.
You're a treasure. Please continue to inspire. Thank Art from me when you next in Oregon. Hugz.

Ridwan said...

Hi there Charmaine:

Thank you ever so kindly for your words. It means a lot to me to know you appreciate our work and small attempt to bring a little perspective to a very complex area.

I will pass your greeting on to Art for sure. He is the groundbreaking pioneer along with Judith Herman in 1992. Between the two of them they opened a new understanding of how trauma affects individuals and nations.

Art's book on national trauma is in its second edition now and widely read.

I promise to keep writing even if only you will read my stuff :0)

Be well and stay in touch.

Peace and love to you and your family.