The 66-year-old former commander of the Tuol Sleng prison or S-21 Prison is charged with crimes against humanity for the death of more than 17,000 Cambodians between 1975 and 1979.
He is the only Khmer Rouge leader to have admitted his responsibilities for the atrocities committed during the Pol Pot regime. In four years of Khmer Rouge rule, almost two million people were killed. He asked for forgiveness and if he is convicted, he could get life in prison.
Co-prosecutor Bill Smith said he believes the trial may have helped Cambodians come to terms with their horrific recent history. “I think the trial has been very, very successful,” he said, thanks in part to the participation of “the victims [. . .] through their civil party lawyers”.
“Hopefully that will send a strong signal to governments around the world that they should never again abuse people like the Khmer Rouge did to their own people," he added.
Anonymous for security reason, a source in Phnom Penh told AsiaNews that he is less certain about a any lessons that can be drawn from the trial because it “was a big compromise with the past that will not produce any results.”
The trial is headline news in English-language papers, and a sentence might lead to a debate in the country, but “proceedings have lasted far too long.”
“At the start Comrade Duch’s confession gave an impression of sincerity. Since then, he has tried to backpedal, saying that he just followed orders.”
Cambodia lacks the “objective capacity” to assume “its responsibilities” and “become conscious of what happened.” The country is incapable or unwilling “to look into its past to understand the weight individual conscience had on that historical period.”
“There is an endless attempt to justify and individual freedom is non-existent,” the source said.
In the last few months, the government has intervened only “to limit the number of witnesses and defendants.”
Prime Minister Hun Sen, a former low-level Khmer Rouge, is concerned that an actual analysis of the facts “might threaten the status quo and social peace.”
The only things that are certain are the trial’s costs and duration. “The trial has been good business for many, enriching some government officials,” the source told AsiaNews. (DS)