A U.N.-backed tribunal sentenced
the Khmer Rouge’s chief jailer to 35 years for overseeing the deaths of up to
16,000 people – the first verdict involving a senior member of the
“killing fields” regime that devastated a generation of Cambodians.
Victims and their relatives burst
into tears after learning that Kaing Guek Eav – also known as Duch – will
actually serve only 19 years after being convicted of war crimes and crimes
against humanity after taking into account time already served and other
That means the 67-year-old could
one day walk free, a prospect that infuriated many who have been demanding justice
for victims of the regime that killed an estimated 1.7 million people between
More than three decades after the
ultra-communist Khmer Rouge killed a quarter of Cambodia’s population while
trying to turn the country into a vast agrarian collective, Duch is so far the
only person to face justice. The group’s top leader, Pol Pot, died in 1998 and
four other senior Khmer Rouge leaders are awaiting trial for their part in the
deaths from execution, starvation, medical neglect and slave-like working
The U.N.-backed tribunal – 10 years
and $100 million in the making – said it took into consideration the historical
context of the atrocities: The regime was the product of the troubled Cold War
It also recognized that Duch, who
headed Tuol Sleng, a secret detention centre for the worst “enemies”
of the state, was not a member of the Khmer Rouge’s inner clique and that he
had cooperated with the court, admitted responsibility and showed “limited”
expressions of remorse.
During the 77-day proceedings, Duch
admitted to overseeing the deaths of up to 16,000 people who passed through the
prison’s gates. Torture used to extract confessions included pulling out
prisoners’ toenails, administering electric shocks and water boarding.
At least 100 people bled to death
in medieval-style medical experiments.
The prosecution and defence have
one month to appeal.