Cambodia: the lost executioner up for trial

Reply Tue 19 Aug, 2008 10:46 pm
Cambodia tribunal indicts Khmer Rouge commandant

By Raphael Minder in Hong Kong

Published: August 14 2008 03:00 | Last updated: August 14 2008 03:00

The tribunal charged with delivering justice for the victims of Cambodia's 1970s genocide is finally set to bring its first defendant to trial, indicting the commandant of an infamous Khmer Rouge torture centre in Phnom Penh for crimes against humanity.

The indictment of Kang Kek Ieu, better known as Duch, was ann-oun-ced this week as the United Nations-backed tribunal found itself under the spotlight following corruption allegations.

Officials at the court -celebrated the indictment, however, as a signal that its work was starting in earnest. "The bell is now ready to ring and we are really pleased with this, because this really responds to the demands of the public, both in Cambodia and abroad," said Reach Sambath, a spokesman, who added that he expected Duch's trial to start by early October.

Duch is one of only five Khmer Rouge leaders to have been charged by the tribunal seeking justice on behalf of the estimated 1.7m Cambodians who died under the regime between 1975 and 1979. He was charged with overseeing Tuol Sleng, a former school that was converted into a political prison and interrogation centre in which thousands died.

Meanwhile, the UN Development Program-me, which manages international funding for the trial, has withheld money under inst-ruction from donors, including the European Union and Australia because of alleged kickbacks involving Cambodian employees.

The court was set up jointly by Cambodian and international authorities and has a staff of 350, including 250 Cambodians. "We really hope that this [fund withholding] is a temporary delay," said Helen Jarvis, a tribunal official. "For the Cambodians not to have been paid since the end of June is getting a little -difficult."

The trial is likely to spark mixed emotions among a population mostly born after the Khmer Rouge atrocities and frustrated by the delay in bringing the regime's leadership to justice.

Ms Jarvis cited a recent survey by the International Republican Institute, the US-based political development group, which found that 86 per cent of respondents supported putting Khmer Rouge leaders on trial.

The latest corruption allegations could add to concernat ballooning costs. The establishment of a tribunal was agreed in principle in 1999 but it was only set up in 2006 after extended debate between international donors and Cambodia on its organisation.

Mr Sambath said spending had not exceeded that of other international tribunals. The court had an initial three-year budget of $56.3m (€38m, £30m).

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2008
Reply Tue 19 Aug, 2008 10:58 pm
Not exactly related to KRT, but still worrisome:

©2008 Google - Map data ©2008 Tele Atlas, AND, Europa Technologies - Terms of Use
Cambodia and Thailand to begin troop redeployment

5 days ago

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) " Cambodia and Thailand have agreed to a gradual redeployment of troops near an ancient border temple ahead of talks next week on territorial disputes, a Cambodian army general said Thursday.

The redeployment, slated to begin during the weekend, will first apply to Thai and Cambodian troops stationed inside the compound of a Buddhist pagoda near the 11th century Preah Vihear temple, Cambodian Deputy Defense Minister Gen. Neang Phat said.

The number of troops from both countries will be reduced "to the lowest number possible," Neang Phat said, adding that security officials from the two countries had reached the agreement during a meeting on Wednesday in Thailand's Surin province.

Neang Phat said that both countries will pull troops back from Keo Sikha Kiri Svara pagoda compound during the weekend before foreign ministers of both countries meet in Thailand next Monday.

A similar step will be taken for troops stationed in areas surrounding the Buddhist pagoda and Preah Vihear temple after the foreign ministers' meeting, he said.

Thai military officials were not immediately available for comment.

About 800 troops from Cambodia and 400 from Thailand have been facing off in the area for a month.

Moving troops from the Keo Sikha Kiri Svara pagoda is considered significant, since it is where the troops first deployed. The two sides came close to a shoot-out on July 17 when Cambodian monks sought to celebrate Buddhist lent in the pagoda.

Troops on both sides raised their weapons, but no shots were fired, and the Cambodians eventually backed down.

The border standoff erupted near the temple last month when UNESCO approved Cambodia's application to have the complex named a World Heritage Site. Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej had backed the bid, sparking demonstrations by anti-government protesters who claimed the temple's new status would undermine Thailand's claim to the surrounding area.

In 1962, the International Court of Justice awarded Preah Vihear and the land it occupies to Cambodia. The decision still rankles many Thais even though the temple is culturally Cambodian, sharing the Hindu-influenced style of the more famous Angkor complex.

The dispute has not been resolved despite two rounds of talks since last month, with the countries referring to two different maps.

Cambodia uses a French colonial map demarcating the border, which Thailand says favors Cambodia. Thailand relies on a map drawn up later with American technical assistance.
Reply Wed 8 Oct, 2008 12:46 pm
I am not sure what to make of this news. On the one hand, it is good to see the Khmer Rouge Tribunal busy, on the other hand.... I believe only the top5 leaders are awaiting trial (have to check back in for the latest updates) for the responsibility for the Cambodian genocide.
Yet, one (very brave) Brit was killed during minesweeping campaign and five Cambodian guerillas are put on trial. I mean, good but... but...isn't that somewhat unbalanced? Somehow it feels as if the British life was valued more than the Cambodian lives.... in their cases nobody is putting their perpetrators - the lesser Khmer Rouge officers- on trial. What to make of that? Good news? Bad news? No news?

Khmer Rouge guerillas who killed British mine expert go on trial
Five former Khmer Rouge guerrillas went on trial in Phnom Penh yesterday for the murder of the British mine clearance expert Christopher Howes in Cambodia 12 years ago.

By Thomas Bell in Phnom Penh
Last Updated: 4:56PM BST 03 Oct 2008
Khmer Rouge guerillas who killed British mine expert go on trial
Khem Ngun, one of the five Khmer Rouge guerrilas facing trial, is escorted from court Photo: AP

Mr Howes, a 37-year-old former Royal Engineer from Bristol, was abducted with his Cambodian translator Houn Houth and 30 local mine clearers in 1996. For two years his fate was unknown and his parents were tormented by ransom demands and alternating rumours that he was dead or on the verge of freedom.

In 1998 a Scotland Yard investigation discovered he was killed after three days.

Members of the mine sweeping team testified yesterday that Mr Howes refused to leave them to fetch ransom money, preferring to stay with his men and negotiate their release. His bravery earned him a posthumous Queen's Gallantry Medal. The Cambodian King Noradom Sihanouk named a street in the capital after him.

The others were soon released but Mr Howes and his translator, Houth, never were.

The court heard that when one of the accused, Khem Noung, took charge of the prisoners he allegedly quickly killed Houth. Mr Noung could speak English himself so the translator was "no use any more", said to the investigating judge. Mr Noung took Mr Howes to the Khmer Rouge stronghold of Anlong Veng, it was claimed.

Mr Noung testified that at a meeting with Ta Mok, a notorious, one legged commander known as "the butcher', he received a chilling message: "Brother does not want to keep the foreigner alive".

That was a reference to Pol Pot, the Khmer Rouge's "Brother Number One". The same night, three of the accused including Mr Noung drove Mr Howes into the dark in a pickup truck, the court heard. They ordered him to sit in front of the car and gave him some fruit to eat, it was claimed.

Puth Lim, the driver, told the court, "They told me to turn on the headlights so the foreigner can eat the fruit. After that I heard gunshots". Some of the movement's top leaders were allegedly watching from the shadows.

Mr Howes's funeral pyre burnt all night as the killers tried to dispose of the evidence, prosecutors said. In the morning they raked through the ashes and allegedly presented the bone fragments to Ta Mok.

None of the three men accused of being at the scene of the crime denies they were present, but they tried to shift the blame for the killing onto others " some of whom are now dead. The two other defendants admitted their role in the kidnapping, but said they would have been killed if they refused.

Judgement and sentencing will be on October 14 and all face life imprisonment if convicted.

Pol Pot and Ta Mok are both dead but five other senior Khmer Rouge figures are in custody awaiting trial for crimes against humanity over the Cambodian genocide of the late 1970s. The ultra-Maoist movement was not finally defeated until the late 1990s.
Reply Wed 8 Oct, 2008 01:18 pm

Jurist wrote:
The ECCC was established by law [text as amended 2004, PDF] in 2001 to investigate and try surviving Khmer Rouge officials. The Khmer Rouge is generally believed to be responsible for the genocide of an estimated 1.7 million Cambodians [PPU backgrounder] between 1975 and 1979. No top Khmer Rouge officials have yet faced trial. In August 2007, the ECCC brought its first charges against Kaing Khek Iev [TrialWatch profile; JURIST report], who was in charge of the notorious S-21 prison in Phnom Penh. Former Khmer Rouge official Nuon Chea is awaiting trial [JURIST report] for charges [statement, PDF] of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Reply Fri 17 Oct, 2008 02:31 am
Good overview of the KRT process in the Economist:

Delayed and denied

Oct 15th 2008
From Economist.com
Trials of Khmer Rouge leaders are put off again

WILLIAM GLADSTONE’s old saying that justice delayed is justice denied certainly applies to the trials of the ghastly Khmer Rouge regime, which terrorised Cambodia in from 1975 to 1979. The insane, communist-inspired party, led by Pol Pot, tried to eradicate the entire educated population and turn Cambodia back into a primitive agrarian society. Millions were slaughtered or died of starvation before Vietnam invaded and brought the regime down.

In 2003, after years of arguments at the United Nations, a special court was created to try the Khmer Rouge’s leaders"although by then Pol Pot had died, at liberty. Since then, the tribunal’s progress has been glacial. On October 9th, the first of its trials, which it had been promising would start this month, was again postponed indefinitely. Such delays could cause world powers to lose interest in a war-crimes tribunal that is no less important than those investigating tragedies in Rwanda, Sierra Leone and the former Yugoslavia.
AP Not on trial yet

The latest arguments over legal niceties mean that months more will pass before Kaing Kek Iev, alias Duch (pictured), will be tried for war crimes and crimes against humanity. Now aged 65, he ran the Tuol Sleng interrogation and torture centre in Phnom Penh, the capital. Nowadays it is a “genocide museum”"a ghoulish tourist attraction with rusting shackles still attached to the walls of tiny cells and display cabinets containing the skulls of some of the countless victims.

Duch was arrested in 1999, and another four former regime leaders, in their seventies and eighties, were detained last year. The five prisoners won the court’s permission last month to speak to each other, despite worries that they might collude and jeopardise their trials.

The tribunal, based in the outskirts of the capital, is an unwieldy compromise. The original proposal was for it to be entirely under the UN’s control, like the tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. But China threatened to veto this, perhaps fearing that such an independent international body would unearth embarrassing evidence of its close support for the Khmer Rouge.

The Cambodian government, led by Hun Sen (a former Khmer Rouge officer, though not himself implicated in the regime’s enormities), was also keen to ensure the UN did not have too much control over the tribunal. So what was agreed in the end was an “Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia”, with a majority of local judges. The result has been constant tensions between the international and Cambodian staff.

Early last year allegations surfaced that Cambodian staff were being forced to give part of their salaries to their bosses. This is a common practice elsewhere in the country’s corrupt and ramshackle public institutions, where workers are prepared to forfeit most of their meagre official pay in return for the opportunities for side-earnings that state jobs offer. A preliminary inquiry by the UN found the accusations credible, but it lacks formal investigative powers"and the government, which does have such powers, would rather hush it all up.

Despite the scandal, big foreign donors recently agreed to keep funding the court for now. Its costs, from its inauguration to its expected conclusion in 2010, have soared from an initial budget of $56.3m to $170m. America, Germany and Japan have just made fresh contributions but the Open Society Justice Initiative, one of George Soros’s charities, which is monitoring the tribunal, reckons it is still short of $74.6m.

As with the countless other foreign-funded projects to help Cambodia, rich-world governments and charities are in a sticky situation. They pour in money and push for reforms to ensure that it is not wasted or stolen, while suffering the indignity of Mr Hun Sen thumbing his nose at them, knowing that whatever they threaten, they will not withdraw their funding.

The prime minister heaped special scorn on Yash Ghai, the UN’s human-rights envoy to Cambodia until last month when he resigned, tired of being insulted by Mr Hun Sen"who has called him “deranged” and dismissed him as a “tourist”"and getting no back-up from the outside world. Mr Hun Sen has been promising a new anti-corruption law for years. Foreign diplomats and aid-agency chiefs in Phnom Penh know perfectly well that even if passed, it would make little difference. But it would at least look like progress, and would also give their bosses back home the cover for continuing to shower money on the country.

Having just increased his majority in an election marred with irregularities, Mr Hun Sen feels pretty safe in power. For all his flaws, his iron fist has at least pacified the country after the long civil war that followed the fall of the Khmer Rouge. Most Cambodians are too young to remember its horrors. For good or ill they, like their government, seem to have more pressing concerns than bringing the regime’s elderly, surviving leaders to justice.
0 Replies
Reply Fri 17 Oct, 2008 10:32 pm
A recurring theme here seems to be that Cambodian's have lost their history. If I didn't want to risk diluting the term, I would call this another crime against humanity. If I had followed this thread earlier, I might have submitted something about the lose of history as a tee shirt theme.
Reply Sat 18 Oct, 2008 04:53 am
Hey, Rog...Glad to have a reader :-)

It seems that there might be hope on the horizon.... though I'm not holding my breath. Hun Sen is a former KR himself and administration, courts, and police are still overcrawled with former KR cadres. Still, somehow, a new textbook on the Pol Pot times has been approved. Must be rather worrisome for teachers...it's been a taboo topic for so long and people are so suspicious of each other... Should be an interesting process...

KR history to be taught in schools by year's end
Written by May Titthara
Friday, 17 October 2008
The Phnom Penh Post

The Kingdom's darkest chapter will be in mainstream curriculum for the first time in schools across the country


The Documentation Center of Cambodia (DC-Cam) has already trained up to 1,000 teachers on how to teach high school students about the Khmer Rouge regime. In 2009, it will launch workshops for teachers throughout the provinces.
THE history of the Pol Pot regime, which has up to now received virtually no attention in Cambodian textbooks, will be taught in classrooms across the country as early as this year, according to an Education Ministry official.

"We will include the history of Democratic Kampuchea in the next school program," Ton Sa Im, an undersecretary of state with the ministry, told the Post Wednesday.

The much-anticipated curriculum project was not expected to get off the ground until the end of next year, but according to Youk Chhang, the director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia (DC-Cam) and designer of the project, a textbook detailing the 1975-79 regime has already been completed ahead of the 2008-09 school cycle.

"We have finished the textbook and are cooperating with the Ministry of Education to put Khmer Rouge history into the school program this year," he said.

The ministry approved plans in May that would expose young Cambodians to the darkest chapter of their history, training over 1,000 teachers on how to convey the topic sensitively.

"The purpose of the new curriculum is to make the younger generation know the true history of the country," Ton Sa Im said. "We should not forget what happened," She added, saying that all students would eventually be able to learn about this important time in history.
"The lessons will go from one era to the next, and we will allow study from primary school up to high school," she said.
Uncovering a hidden past
Until this year, the government, which includes many former members of the violent regime, has been reluctant to resurrect details of the notorious period. As a result, many young people simply don't believe the events happened.
"My son and daughter never believe me when I tell them about what happened," Te Sao Varine, deputy of Santhormok High School, said.

All khmer people must know about khmer rouge regime history.

"But if they have it in the school program they will believe it because it will come from their teacher."
Khoun Sopheakna, a student at Norton University, said she was proud that her generation will now have a chance to set the record straight.

"I am very proud that the young Khmer generation will have the chance to know about the cruelty of Pol Pot's regime," she said.
"But I think that high school is better than primary school to study it because some [students] are too young to learn about it and it will impact their feelings."

Mai Day Ny, a student at NUM University, said it was an important part of history to learn because it showed how the decisions of some could affect an entire nation.

"All Khmer people must know about Khmer Rouge regime history because it shows that only one man can lead a country to good or bad," she said, adding, however, that she was also worried that it might prompt negative emotions among her classmates.

"I am worried this project will impact the feeling of students because they will think about the bad things that happened in the Cambodia of the past."

The announcement of progress in educational reconciliation comes, ironically, as judicial means to rectify the past at the Khmer Rouge tribunal are delayed until an unknown date next year. Youk Chhang said that this part of the textbook could be amended.

"When the Khmer Rouge Tribunal finishes, we can update the book and conduct more research," he said.
Reply Tue 21 Oct, 2008 01:58 pm
dagmaraka wrote:
Hey, Rog...Glad to have a reader :-)

Two. At least.

Are you still in touch with the Cambodian activists you used to work with? What are they saying about the environment they're operating? Is it changing? For the better?
Reply Tue 21 Oct, 2008 02:59 pm
Three readers (though I admit to only scanning the articles)
Reply Wed 22 Oct, 2008 07:34 am
I'm following along, too. Haven't had anything to add. Good thread.
0 Replies
Reply Mon 16 Feb, 2009 05:37 pm
Good news: Trials are beginning in Cambodia!

Today, on NPR, they wrote:
Khmer Rouge Official Faces Justice In Cambodia

by Michael Sullivan

All Things Considered, February 16, 2009 ·

The trial of one of the surviving leaders of the Khmer Rouge starts Tuesday in Cambodia, a day many thought would never come.

Five senior members of the ultra-Maoist regime are in custody awaiting trial for their role in the deaths of as many as 2 million Cambodians between 1975 and 1979. In the 30 years since, not a single Khmer Rouge leader has been brought to trial until now.

Phnom Penh's infamous Toul Sleng prison was packed over the weekend with more tourists than usual, as the country prepared for Tuesday's trial of the man who once ran the Khmer Rouge torture center: Kaing Guek Eav, better known as Comrade Duch.

Read full article on NPR.org
Reply Mon 16 Feb, 2009 05:46 pm
Thomas wrote:
Good news: Trials are beginning in Cambodia!

Bad news: Thomas mangles good news.

I had meant to write: "Trials of five more Khmer Rouge big shots are beginning in Cambodia."
Reply Tue 17 Feb, 2009 08:43 am
it's the first trial, and they are trying Duch...the first of the five.
Reply Tue 17 Feb, 2009 08:47 am
Here is one of the more interesting articles on the topic, by Francois Bizot, who was one of the very few (count'em on the fingers of one hand) journalists in the country during the KR.

Op-Ed Contributor
My Savior, Their Killer

Article Tools Sponsored By
Published: February 16, 2009
Phnom Penh, Cambodia

AFTER 10 years of detention, Kaing Guek Eav, alias Comrade Duch, is to appear today before the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity. He was arrested in 1999, after 20 years of living incognito, for crimes committed on his orders as commander of the Tuol Sleng prison in Phnom Penh from 1975 to 1979, when the Khmer Rouge controlled Cambodia and were responsible for the deaths of more than a million people.

I was his prisoner for three months in 1971, in a camp known as M13 hidden in the forest of the Cardamom mountains. I had been doing field work in the Cambodian countryside, searching for ancient Khmer Buddhist manuscripts, when I was ambushed by Khmer Rouge militants fighting Cambodia’s American-backed government. I was accused of being a C.I.A. spy and sentenced to death.

Duch was in charge of the jungle camp, both my jailer and my prosecutor. I was kept in chains and interrogated daily by him. Somehow, during the strange dialogue that began between us, he became convinced that I really was just a Frenchman who wanted to study Buddhist texts. Duch undertook to secure my release. My two Khmer assistants did not have the same good fortune: despite Duch’s promise to me, they were executed soon after I left the camp, as so many thousands were in the years to come under his meticulous supervision.

I did not see Duch again until 2003, in the military prison in Phnom Penh. Conditions there were rudimentary, but the general feel was not that of a jail. I remember that he had the same look of determination that he had had 32 years earlier, though the smile that he had occasionally flashed when he ruled over my fate was gone.

In the whirl of conflicting emotions provoked by seeing him again, I asked him: “How are things here? Is it all right?” Compelled to repeat the question, I felt its incongruity: the executioner was now on the other side of the gate, as I had foreseen in my dreams, in the place once occupied by his victims.

In July 2007, he was transferred to one of the eight cells in the detention center that is part of the vast complex where the war crimes court is based and where his trial will take place. I visited him there. At the time, he enjoyed the relative comfort of his new surroundings. Four other elderly Khmer Rouge leaders were also incarcerated there. They were well cared for; food, cells, a television room, a visiting room " everything was in conformance with international rules, enough to make the guards jealous.

But Duch may today regret having left the tedium of the military prison. After years of stalling, and many months of thorough preliminary investigations, the trial that so few people wanted is about to begin. The sound of the preparations for it rings out in the detention center as if it were an execution.

The death penalty, which Duch ordered at least 12,380 times, does not exist in United Nations-backed tribunals like this one. His condemnation will not have the too-familiar instantaneousness of the Khmer Rouge hoe striking the back of the neck, but his sentence will be long and relentless.

The worst that he risks, however, is not imprisonment itself, but seeing his reasons for living disappear. His life now revolves around the visits from his children, a right that was denied to his victims, and his faith in the judicial process " a process that did not exist at Tuol Sleng.

Duch does not raise any objection to his trial. In his heart lie the same fears that haunted each of his victims " ancient fears that have never ceased to haunt mankind. Thus he has admitted his guilt, bowed over and humbled by the horror of what he has done.

Last February, Duch was led, with his consent, to the scenes of his crimes. The visit was a shock for all who witnessed it. This major judicial step took place in an atmosphere of intense, palpable emotion.

“I ask for your forgiveness " I know that you cannot forgive me, but I ask you to leave me the hope that you might,” he said before collapsing in tears on the shoulder of one of his guards.

I was not there " it was a closed hearing " but those who were reported that the cry of the former executioner betrayed such suffering that one of the few survivors of Tuol Sleng screamed out, “Here are the words that I’ve longed to hear for 30 years!”

It could be that forgiveness is possible after a simple, natural process, when the victim feels that he has been repaid. And the executioner has to pay dearly, for it is the proof of his suffering that eases ours.

Let us not fool ourselves. Beyond the crimes that Duch committed against humanity, those of the Khmer Rouge will also be judged. And beyond the crimes of the Khmer Rouge, the capacity of the tribunals to mete out justice will be tested, as well as our ability to judge man himself, and history. We shall all be at the trial " not just as judges, but also as victims, and the accused.

The genocide of the Khmer Rouge will be judged as a “crime against humanity,” a crime against ourselves. As such, Duch’s guilt exceeds his immediate victims; it becomes the guilt of humanity, in the name of all victims. Duch killed mankind. The trial of the Khmer Rouge should be an opportunity for each of us to gaze at the torturer with some distance " from beyond the intolerable cry of the suffering, which may veil the truth of the abomination. The only way to look at the torturer is to humanize him.

François Bizot is the author of “The Gate,” a memoir. This essay was translated by The Times from the French.
0 Replies
Reply Tue 17 Feb, 2009 09:24 am
Oh! so I mangled it twice. Thanks for the correction, and for the article.
Reply Tue 17 Feb, 2009 11:00 am
No, only the second time. Your first post was correct.
Reply Tue 17 Mar, 2009 10:35 am
Trials in Cambodia Expose the Cogs in a Killing Machine
Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum

New York Times, March 9 2009

An archival photograph of the guard detail at Tuol Sleng prison, taken during the Khmer Rouge’s rule in Cambodia in the 1970s. Him Huy, who was a prison guard at the time, is fourth from left.


ANLONG SAN, Cambodia " “We were victims, too,” said Him Huy, the head of the guard detail at the Tuol Sleng torture house, who took part in the executions of thousands of people at a Khmer Rouge killing field.


Mr. Him Huy, now 53, oversaw the executions of thousands for the Khmer Rouge. “I had no choice,” he said.

As the prisoners knelt at the edges of mass graves with their hands tied behind them, executioners swung iron bars at the backs of their heads, twice if necessary, before they toppled forward into the pits.

“I had no choice,” Mr. Him Huy, 53, said. “If I hadn’t killed them, I would have been killed myself.”

As the trials of five senior Khmer Rouge figures get under way near Phnom Penh, the capital, they raise questions about the guilt " or victimhood " of lower-ranking cadres like Mr. Him Huy, the people who carried out the arrests, killings and torture, who are unlikely to be tried.

As guard and executioner at Cambodia’s most prominent torture house, Mr. Him Huy personifies the horror of the Khmer Rouge years, from 1975 to 1979, when at least 1.7 million people died of starvation and overwork as well as torture and execution.

But in the severe and paranoid world of the Khmer Rouge prison, guards and torturers themselves worked under threat of death, and Mr. Him Huy saw a number of his colleagues kneel at the edges of their graves for that blow to the back of the neck.

“I used an iron bar about that long,” he said, spreading his hands wide as he told his story late last month, “and about as thick as my big toe.”

At night, sometimes two or three times a week, Mr. Him Huy said, he drove trucks full of prisoners to the Choeung Ek killing field, where he logged them in 20 or 30 or 80 at a time and then confirmed that they had been killed.

He asserted that he had personally killed only five people, as demonstrations of loyalty to his superiors.

At least 14,000 people were arrested and interrogated at Tuol Sleng prison, which was officially known as S-21 and is now a museum. Only a handful survived.

Mr. Him Huy is back home in this village 50 miles south of Phnom Penh. A farmer and the father of nine, he is optimistic, hard-working and quick to smile, seemingly comfortable to be who he is and at ease with his memories. Neighbors seem to like him.

“Even the young people, when they have a party they always invite him,” said his wife, Put Peng Aun. “If there’s a party, he’s got to be there.”

Asked to describe himself, Mr. Him Huy said: “I’m not a bad person. I’m a good man. I never argue with anyone. I never fight with anyone. I have good intentions as a human being.”

But some of those who knew him at the prison remember him harshly. One survivor, Bou Meng, said Mr. Him Huy beat and tortured him, poking at his wounds with a stick. “His face was so mean,” Mr. Bou Meng told the Documentation Center of Cambodia, a private research center. “Today he looks gentle.”

Two of Mr. Him Huy’s co-workers at Tuol Sleng, quoted by the historian David Chandler in his book on the prison, “Voices From S-21,” remembered him as “a seasoned killer, an important figure at the prison and a key participant in the execution process.”

Mr. Him Huy is evasive about the extent of his duties at the prison. But what he did there, he said, he did on pain of death.

“I am a victim of the Khmer Rouge,” he said without hesitation. “I did not volunteer to work at S-21.

“We were all prisoners, those who killed and those who were killed,” he said. “And in fact, for a lot of the staff there, the day came when they were killed, too. In the daytime we’d be eating together, and in the evening some were arrested and killed.”

In a 2001 book about the prison staff called “Victims and Perpetrators?” the Documentation Center calculates that at least 563 members of Tuol Sleng’s staff, about one-third of the total, were executed while working there.

In a way, Tuol Sleng was a microcosm of the nation, where half-starved and overworked people lived in constant fear of being arrested and killed, often for reasons they never learned.

The first defendant in the United Nations-backed tribunal is Mr. Him Huy’s former boss, the prison commandant, a tough, sharp-eyed man named Kaing Guek Eav and generally known as Duch. His trial began last month.

It was Duch who signed execution orders for both prisoners and errant staff members. Indeed, Mr. Him Huy rose to become fifth or sixth in the chain of command after his superiors were pulled from their jobs and killed.

“Yes, I did kill people,” he said. “I did transport people to Choeung Ek. I did verify lists of people at Choeung Ek. But Duch ordered me to do all of that.”

Many Cambodians appear to accept this common defense among former Khmer Rouge cadres: that they had no choice but to be cruel, fearing for their own lives. It is a defense Duch himself has offered in the past.

Chum Mey, another survivor of Tuol Sleng, described 12 days and nights of torture and terror, but without bitterness toward his abusers. “My thought is not to put the blame on Him Huy because I don’t know what I would have done in his place,” he said. “I don’t think I would have been able to disobey.”

Like most other guards and torturers at the prison, Mr. Him Huy was recruited young " easily molded, brutalized and indoctrinated into the paranoia and extremism of this closed world.

The son of a clerk at a fishing company, he joined the Khmer Rouge insurgency at the age of 12 and was transferred to work in the prison when he was 18.

After the fall of the Khmer Rouge, he spent a year in a local jail as punishment for his role in the regime, as many former Khmer Rouge cadres did.

Thirty years have passed since the Khmer Rouge were ousted by Vietnam. Mr. Him Huy is no different from his neighbors, raising a big family and tending to his beans and corn and rice.

At the end of a long interview, he headed back to his bean field, filling a canister with pesticide and marching down the rows of long yellow beans, swinging a hose from left to right.

He made sure, he said, to walk with the wind behind him so that none of the pesticide would blow back in his face.
Reply Tue 17 Mar, 2009 11:44 am
What a depressing read! But it's good to see the trial moving forward.
0 Replies
Reply Wed 8 Apr, 2009 12:33 pm
The New York Times features a piece on how Cambodians today are dealing -- or failing to deal -- with their traumatic past.

The New York Times wrote:
Almost everyone here of a certain age has stories to tell of terror, abuse, hunger and the loss of family members.

“Some older people get so upset at their children for not believing that they say ‘I wish the Khmer Rouge time would happen again; then you’d believe it,”’ Mr. Ty Leap said.

As much as 70 percent of Cambodia’s population is under the age of 30, and four out of five members of this young generation know little or nothing about the Khmer Rouge years, according to a survey last fall by the Human Rights Center, University of California, Berkeley.

That ignorance " among both young and old " seems also to embrace the trials of five major Khmer Rouge figures that began last month, a process that is meant, in part, to begin a process of healing and closure.

Read the full article: Pain of Khmer Rouge Era Lost on Cambodian Youth
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Reply Wed 8 Apr, 2009 02:23 pm
Nic Dunlop, the author of The Lost Executioner, is making documentary feature about Cambodia and KRT. "Our" villagers (from the project in my american-based work) are in it. There will be more videos, but these were made available so far:

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