The never-ending adventures of a travel writer in Vietnam, Cambodia, New Zealand and throughout the Asia-Pacific region.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Khmer Rouge Tribunal Day 2

Cambodian students head into the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia to attend the trial of Kaing Guek Eav

I had the honor and privilege of attending the Khmer Rouge Tribunal today, outside Phnom Penh, Cambodia. This was the final day of the initial hearing, in which lawyers and judges set the ground-rules that will determine how the rest of the trial goes.

This trial is for Kaing Guek Eav, better known as "Duch," who was the commanding officer at the infamous S21, a school turned torture facility where approximately 14000 people were killed under his charge.

Most of the subject matter was mundane and elementary. Toward the end however, things turned contentious and much more interesting when the prosecution sought to introduce a video allegedly shot by the Vietnamese military when they invaded Cambodia and first encountered S21. The Vietnam government only just provided the tape to the prosecution.

The defense vehemently opposed introduction of the video, however, suggesting it appeared to be a faked re-enactment, provided by the Vietnamese with political motivation. The defense raised a number of interesting points regarding inconsistencies between the tape and facts known about conditions at S21.

Inconsistencies in the video include:
-The entrance in the film is on the wrong side of the building.
-The sign with the name of the facility is missing in the video.
-The number and ages of survivors in the video don't match the known survivors.
-The children survivors in the video are healthy--they should have been haggard and near death.
-The children survivors do not appear in any of the known lists of survivors, and strangely can not remember the names of their parents.
-None of the famous adult survivors of S21 do not appear in the video

The initial hearing ended at 12:28 in the afternoon. The substantive trial schedule will be determined soon, but is expected to resume in March.

Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia

The trials are not without controversy. Only 5 officers of the Khmer Rouge have been permitted by the government to go to trial. Many members of Cambodia's current government are former members of the Khmer Rouge themselves, and guilty of crimes that will never go to trial. Thousands of ex-Khmer Rouge cadres live freely among the population as well. Only Duch, now a Christian, has freely turned himself in, confessed to his crimes, expressed remorse, and asked for forgiveness.

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