Slow progress in Killing Fields torturer's trial

Cambodia’s “Killing Fields” tribunal on Wednesday ploughed through lists of witnesses set to testify in the first trial of a senior Khmer Rouge cadre 30 years after the end of a regime blamed for 1,7-million deaths. Duch, former chief of the notorious S-21 torture centre who went on trial for crimes against humanity on Tuesday, sat quietly in a white shirt as the tribunal laid the groundwork for a full-blown trial in March.

“The focus today is on preliminary objections, finalising witness lists and determining additional evidence,” said Helen Jarvis, head of public affairs for the tribunal set up to prosecute those most responsible for Khmer Rouge atrocities.

On the streets of the capital Phnom Penh, newspapers with front page stories and photographs of Duch’s first day in the dock sold out quickly.

“We cannot forgive them,” 48-year-old Seng Hy said between drags on a cigarette. “If they are found guilty, they should get the death sentence.”

There is no death penalty in Cambodia and the five Khmer Rouge cadres charged with various crimes against humanity could get life sentences if convicted by the joint Cambodian-United Nations court.

Duch, whose real name is Kaing Guek Eav, is the first of the five to face the panel of five Cambodian and international judges.

No trial dates have been set for the others, who include “Brother Number Two” Nuon Chea and former president Khieu Samphan.

Survivors, former guards and Khmer Rouge experts are expected to testify against Duch, a born-again Christian who has asked forgiveness for the deaths of 14 000 “enemies of the revolution” at S-21.
His lawyers argue he was only following orders and should not be made a scapegoat for the Khmer Rouge era.

“The Khmer Rouge denied victims their humanity and in doing so, the Khmer Rouge lost their own humanity,” French defence lawyer Francois Roux told reporters after Tuesday’s hearing.

“The purpose of this trial is to allow people on both sides to regain their humanity,” he said.

But some Cambodians wonder if the trials, which come after a decade of wrangling over jurisdiction and funding, are worth it.

“You don’t have to find proof of atrocities because you can see skulls everywhere in Cambodia and you can see the legacy of S-21,” said 60-year-old Horn Oeurn. - Reuters

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