Judges preparing for first trial on genocide in Cambodia

July 31, 2008 at 7:33 am Leave a comment

The Associated Press – July 31, 2008

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia: Cambodian and international judges are making final preparations to begin the trial of the former commander of a Khmer Rouge torture center who is charged with crimes against humanity, a tribunal official said Thursday.

The trial of Kaing Guek Eav, 65, alias Duch, who headed the notorious S-21 prison and torture center, is scheduled for late September, said Helen Jarvis, a spokeswoman for the United Nations-assisted tribunal.

The trial is a key step in Cambodia’s long wait for justice for atrocities committed during the Khmer Rouge rule in the late 1970s. Some 1.7 million people perished.

“To have the director of that institution on trial for crimes committed will be of enormous importance in understanding the Democratic Kampuchea regime,” Jarvis said, referring to the Khmer Rouge’s official name at the time.

The prison in Phnom Penh was the Khmer Rouge’s largest torture facility, and has now become the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum.

About 16,000 men, women and children are believed to have been held there. Only 14 are thought to have survived.

The tribunal has been set up under Cambodia’s court system, which follows the French model in which case files are handled by investigating judges before being handed to other judges for the actual trial.

The five judges who will try Duch’s case include three Cambodians and one Frenchman, Jean-Marc Lavergne, who took up their positions in July. A fifth judge from New Zealand, Silvia Cartwright, is to arrive in Cambodia later this week, Jarvis said.

Duch is one of five suspects being held for trial. The others are former top lieutenants of late Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot, who died in 1998.

They are former head of state Khieu Samphan, former chief ideologist Nuon Chea, ex-Foreign Minister Ieng Sary, and his wife Ieng Thirith, who served as the Khmer Rouge social affairs minister.

They face charges of crimes against humanity and war crimes.

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