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Justice in Cambodia

March 21, 2010

Transitional Justice in Cambodia?

I am very interested in trying to understand more about the different forms of “transitional justice,” and their impact on the survivors of violent and repressive regimes. If any of our readers are members of or working with the Cambodian community, I would be grateful for feedback about what community reactions have been to the ongoing war crimes tribunal, and especially about the impact on individuals who may have been tortured — or had family members tortured or killed — under the Pol Pot regime. A couple of items from recent news of the tribunals:

Khmer Rouge “First Lady” charged with genocide:

According to a recent Reuters article, the Cambodian war crimes court has charged 78-year-old Ieng Thirith, the Khmer Rouge regime’s social affairs minister and sister-in-law of leader Pol Pot, with genocide, torture, and religious persecution relating to the slaughter of Cambodia’s ethnic Vietnamese and Cham Muslim minorities during the 1975-1979 period. Thirith’s husband, Ieng Sary was also charged.

Head of prison where thousands died
wanted to be a “well-disciplined boy”

Though a total of six Khmer Rouge leaders have been charged, only the first trial, of the head of the notorious Tuol Sleng prison, has been completed so far. Kaing Guek Eav (better known as Duch – and pronounced Doik) was accused of overseeing the torture and murder of more than 14,000 people; a verdict on his case is expected in March. He faces a possible life sentence for homicide and torture, as well as war crimes and crimes against humanity.

In a very interesting but little discussed article (Legal Strategy Fails to Hide Torturer’s Pride), Seth Mydens of the New York Times sheds some light on the way this former high school teacher became a methodical mass murderer. He notes that Duch’s revolutionary name comes from a children’s book about an obedient schoolboy. “I wanted to be a well-disciplined boy,” he quotes Duch as saying to the court, “who respected the teachers and did good deeds.”

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