Friday, 24 April 2009

Duch trial: quick hearing in front of populous audience

Kambol (Phnom Penh, Cambodia). 23/04/2009: Villagers from Kampong Speu province visiting the ECCC. They live near M13, the antechamber to the S-21 interrogation centre. ©John Vink/ Magnum


By Stéphanie Gée

On Thursday April 23rd, the courtroom was packed as some 250 villagers came to attend the hearing. They live in the Omlieng commune, where the M-13 centre, formerly directed by Duch, was located, and were taken to Phnom Penh by the Documentation Centre of Cambodia (DC-Cam). Also, about sixty inhabitants living on the outskirts of Phnom Penh were there, taken to the tribunal by the ECCC (Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia) Public Affairs Section and fifty students from the private Build Bright University (BBU) also came to watch. The hearing, which only took place in the morning, started late and was slowed down by the search for sorting marks on documents but Duch, the accused, began mentioning the early stages of S-21, where more than 15,000 people lost their lives.

During the hearing, Duch claimed that before coming to the ECCC, he was only aware of the existence of two Khmer Rouge security centres, on top of S-21, which he directed. He explained that “All security offices, including the S-21 office, had the duty to detain, torture, interrogate and finally to smash -- that is to kill”. After a recap, with maps, of the “successive houses and offices of Duch”, judges started mentioning the structure of S-21. An organisation chart drawn by Duch himself was then projected, showing his name at the top.

To sum up his responsibilities as “president” of the structure, Duch reminded that on the one hand, he had to draft reports regarding the confessions extracted from detainees under torture. He then sent those documents over to his superiors. On the other hand, he was in charge of train end aducate hiss taff for them to dare “interrogate and torture”. On the chapter of interrogators, some of whom were specially appointed to make Vietnamese or important prisoners talk, he explained he asked his hierarchy to be able to set up a female team of interrogators. He said he made this decision after “incidents” occurred among male staff that took advantage of their position and raped female detainees. Debates over S-21 will resume on Monday April 27th.

Kambol (Phnom Penh, Cambodia). 23/04/2009: Aerial picture of S21, shown on 11th day of Duch trial at the ECCC. ©John Vink/ Magnum

At break time, the courtyard of the tribunal was very busy. Sat around a table, Law professor Seng Bun Mea Rith, 55, is chatting with some of his students from BBU. He explains he wanted to teach them a lesson of practical work, since “youngsters are too often not really aware of the Khmer Rouge regime”. “I also wanted them to see how the court works”, he says, seriously, in front of his students. Judging by their cheerful faces, one can guess the real interest they took in being there, seeing and listening to a former Khmer Rouge cadre. A tall young man points out that he lost his grand-parents during the regime of Democratic Kampuchea and felt a greater wish to see one of the senior survivors of the murderous regime. Dany, 20 years old, says with a large smile that she feels angry against the former torturer. “My parents told me the sufferings they went through during the Pol Pot era... Seeing Duch on the television is not enough. I wanted to see him for real!”, she says. Several of her fellow-students mentioned the same feelings. However, the young woman admits the strange sensation of also discovering Duch as an “ordinary old man”...

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