al Jazeera‘s indepth looks at the Khmer Rouge regime’s reign of terror as the as its chief torturer’s trial begins today.
Kaing Guek Eav, better known as Duch, faced the Cambodian-UN Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) in the capital Phnom Penh on Monday. ‘The 66-year-old is charged with committing crimes against humanity and war crimes, including murder, rape and torture during the Khmer Rouge’s reign from 1975 to 1979.’
al Jazeera – First Person: Surviving Cambodia’s Tuol Sleng Prison” – 3 Dec 07 (2:40):
Comrade Duch, also known as Kaing Guek Eav, is set to be the first Khmer Rouge leader to stand trial at a UN-backed genocide tribunal in Cambodia.
Duch was indicted last year for allegedly overseeing the torture and killing of more than 12,000 men, women and children when he headed the S-21 prison camp housed in a former Phnom Penh high school known as Tuol Sleng.
The court proceedings are seen as a long awaited step towards justice for the estimated 1.7 million people who died under the Khmer Rouge during its rule of Cambodia from 1975 to 1979.
Born in 1942, and trained as a mathematics teacher, he was drawn towards communist ideology by a group of Chinese exchange students at the University of Phnom Penh.
Arrested by police under the rule of Norodom Sihanouk, the former king, he was jailed for “communist activities” and was held without trial for several months.
After Sihanouk was overthrown, Duch was released and joined an opposition communist party in the early 1970s, where he was put in charge of security.
The earliest documents connecting Duch with S-21 date from October 1975.
His name is on many execution documents, including one ordering the deaths of 17 children whose parents were accused of being spies.
Thousands of people were taken to Tuol Sleng, where they were chained to metal beds, tortured into making confessions and executed in a nearby field.
Duch himself is thought to have lived close to S-21 with his family and he remained at the prison until 1979, when the Vietnamese army took the capital, which heralded the fall of the Khmer Rouge.
His whereabouts were unknown until April 1999, when Nic Dunlop, a US photojournalist, discovered his past identity.
In the intervening years Duch had converted to Christianity in 1996 after meeting some American missionaries.
After Dunlop’s interview was published in the Far Eastern Economic Review, Duch surrendered to the authorities in Phnom Penh.
He was detained in a Cambodian military prison until May 1999 when he was arrested by police after a military court had charged him with murder, torture and membership of an outlawed group.
He was formally transferred to the genocide tribunal in July 2007.
The indictment last August gave a detailed account of the horrific conditions at Tuol Sleng and Duch’s alleged role in the atrocities, saying that every prisoner who arrived there was destined for execution.
“Duch personally tortured and mistreated detainees at S-21 on a number of separate occasions and through a variety of means,” the indictment said.
Duch is one of five Khmer Rouge leaders who have been detained by the court for their alleged roles in the regime.
Also in detention and awaiting trial are Nuon Chea, known as “Brother Number Two”, who served as deputy to Pol Pot, the late Khmer Rouge leader; Khieu Samphan, a former head of state; Ieng Sary, a former foreign minister; and his wife Ieng Thirith, who was the minister of social affairs.
VIDEO: al Jazeera – “People & Power: Cambodia’s Trials” – 24 Feb 09 (22:27):
Part One (13:21):
Part Two (9:06):