Associated Press
Khmer Rouge prison commander Kaing
Guak Eav

Khmer Rouge Torturer Acknowledges Crimes in UN Genocide Trial

March 31, 2009 03:00 PM
by Anne Szustek
Kaing Guak Eav, also known as Duch, admitted his role in the atrocities committed at the Khmer Rouge prison that he commanded; however, he and his lawyer said he was being scapegoated for others’ wrongdoing.

Khmer Rouge Torturer Accepts Some Responsibility, Expresses Regret

“I admit that I am responsible for the crimes, torture and execution at S-21,” Kaing Guak Eav was quoted by the Los Angeles Times as saying during Monday’s UN tribunal on the Khmer Rouge’s alleged crimes against humanity.

Eav, also called Duch, ran the Tuol Sleng prison, codenamed S-21, where more than 12,000 people are thought to have been tortured and killed. Only 14 people are believed to have survived the prison and the “killing fields” located adjacent to the facility. Some 1.7 million Cambodians are thought to have died from murder, exhaustion and malnourishment during the Maoist Khmer Rouge regime in the 1970s.

Eav faces charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity, torture and premeditated murder in connection with the atrocities committed at the center. However, Eav, a former teacher, said that he was following Khmer Rouge orders rather than orchestrating the abuse himself: “I am just a scapegoat and a person who played a role in the killing of the regime.”

Eav’s lawyer, Kar Savuth, backed up this testimony, saying that his client was not a “senior leader” nor was he among “those who were most responsible,” and as such, should not have been subject to prosecution.

Four other people are waiting to stand trial for their alleged roles in the Khmer Rouge’s regime. The Cambodian government is hesitant to have Khmer Rouge-related tribunals beyond those already charged, arguing that it may spark civil war.

Other Khmer Rouge members have been punished for different crimes. In October, three men were each sentenced to 20 years in jail for the 1996 abduction and murder of Christopher Howes and Houn Hourth. Howes was a British citizen who was in Cambodia to help clear land mines, and Hourth was his interpreter.

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Background: The Khmer Rouge

The Khmer Rouge began in the early 1960s as part of the Communist Party of Kampuchea. It became more popular when it formed an alliance with Prince Norodom Sihanouk in 1970. Cambodia plunged into a civil war that ended when the Khmer Rouge took the capital, Phnom Penh, on April 17, 1975.

Residents of Phnom Penh initially welcomed the Khmer Rouge and its leader, Pol Pot. That welcome soon faded as Pol Pot renamed the country Kampuchea and forced the city residents into the countryside to work on communal farms.

Pol Pot wanted to create an agrarian utopia. He banned money, destroyed the central bank, and his troops set about killing “anyone thought to be an intellectual of any sort” because they were considered bourgeois, thus enemies of the Communist Party. People who spoke a foreign language or wore glasses were targeted for imprisonment and torture. Others starved to death or died because of overwork. Pol Pot himself was educated, having studied radio electronics in Paris on a scholarship.

Pol Pot called this “Year Zero.” Reuters called it “one of the most violent social experiments in human history.”.

Vietnamese troops overthrew the Khmer Rouge in 1979, and the rest of the world, which had been largely unaware of the group’s atrocities, gradually learned of them. A movie from 1984 called “The Killing Fields” helped share the survivors’ stories.

Pol Pot retreated to Thailand after the invasion and by 1997, his colleagues had removed him from the party. He was convicted of treason and sentenced to house arrest, and died in 1998 of natural causes.

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