As the trial of former Khmer Rouge secret police chief (and Pol Pot’s main executioner) Comrade Duch nears its end, the 67-year-old, who stands accused of crimes against humanity and faces a lifetime in prison if convicted, has made an unexpected step by apologising to his victims.
Reading from a handwritten speech amounting to more than ten pages long, Duch admitted to being “solely and individually responsible for the loss of at least 12,380 lives. These people, before their deaths, endured great and prolonged suffering and countless indignities. I … forever wish most respectful and humble apologies to the dead souls.”
As Duch qualified this statement with the caveat that he was a mere “cog in a running machine”, some of the families of his victims have treated his apology with contempt and derision. However, a great many more relatives will have not even have heard Duch’s confession at all. As Nic Dunlop noted in the September issue of Prospect, 85 percent of Cambodians had little or no knowledge of the tribunal itself due to the Cambodian government’s reluctance to adeqautely publicise and explain the trial to its citizens:
“The tribunal lies the best part of an hour from the centre of the capital which says much about the importance the government puts on bringing the Khmer Rouge to justice. The same might be said of the fact that of the court’s $143m budget, a mere $50,000 has been earmarked for explaining the trials. Worse, the tribunal faces allegations of political interference and corruption. A recent attempt to widen its net was resisted, in what many believe was an attempt by Cambodian prime minister Hun Sen to protect China, Pol Pot’s former underwriter, from embarrassing revelations…As the head of Duch’s defence team told me, “many people will be disappointed.”
So can justice ever be gained by the countless victims of the Khmer Rouge regime? And what will that justice mean to the millions of Cambodians who know little or nothing of Comrade Duch’s trial? Click here to read and comment on the piece.