Saturday, 31 July 2010

Sister of Cumbrian Khmer Rouge victim welcomes verdict for torturer

via Khmer NZ

By Pamela McGowan
Friday, 30 July 2010

The sister of a Cumbrian man who died in the Cambodian Killing Fields has spoken after seeing his murderer found guilty 32 years later.

Hilary Holland

John Dewhirst

John Dewhirst, 26, fell victim to Pol Pot’s murderous regime after straying too close to the Cambodian coast during a sailing adventure holiday in 1978.

The teacher was captured by the Khmer Rouge military and sent to the notorious Tuol Sleng detention centre, Camp S-21. He was one of at least 17,000 people – and the only Briton – to be brutally interrogated, tortured and eventually murdered.

This week the man responsible for his death, Kaing Guek Eav – known as Comrade Duch – was found guilty of overseeing the torture and execution of thousands after going on trial at a UN war crimes tribunal. The 67-year old former maths teacher was sentenced to 35 years in prison but is only expected to serve 19 due to a reduction for time already served.

The sister of Mr Dewhirst, solicitor Hilary Holland, 55, said she is not happy with the length of the sentence but believes the trial has been a positive step because it has brought the true extent of the Cambodian atrocities to light.

She told The Cumberland News: “I was obviously glad that he was found guilty and that it was a long sentence.

“But he could be out and free when he’s 86. That may seem like an awfully old man but I don’t think it really reflects what he has done. It’s not about punishment as such, it’s just that I feel the enormity of what he is responsible for should be reflected in the sentence. It should be proportional to the crime.

“He was found guilty of murder, torture, rape and crimes against humanity.

“The world needs to know that is punished with a very, very severe penalty.”

Mrs Holland – who could not face the ordeal of attending the trial herself – believes the prosecution should have made the case for a longer sentence. She added that many Cambodians felt he should have been given a full life term.

However, despite this, she believes the trial itself has brought a degree of justice and helped to show the world what went on in Cambodia which, unlike the rule of the Nazis, is not widely documented.

She hopes that could help to prevent such atrocities from happening again.

“It’s raised the profile of what went on in Cambodia, both to the world and to the Cambodian people – many of whom were still in the dark,” she said. “I always hoped that the trial would bring what happened to the attention of the world.

“A whole country has been damaged forever. It’s important for the younger generation to learn and the older ones who have been damaged to hopefully heal.”

It will never be known exactly what happened to John, a former Appleby Grammar School pupil, after he was captured.

It is believed he confessed under torture to being a CIA agent. In reality he was a graduate who began travelling after finishing teacher training.

During Duch’s trial, the court heard harrowing claims that he was burnt alive. Mrs Holland – now a mother-of-four and partner at Brampton firm Cartmell Shepherd – has still not come to terms with the death of her brother and said even the trial cannot bring closure.

She admitted she gets through life by blocking out what happened to her brother and not talking about it, but she decided to speak out following the trial to raise its profile in the West, because her brother was the only British victim.

It is estimated that around 1.7 million Cambodians died under the dictatorship of Pol Pot, from 1975 to 1979.

Duch was the first of five surviving senior Khmer Rouge figures to go on trial.

He had admitted and apologised for his role in the killing and torture of thousands of men, women and children at the prison – but said he was following orders and had asked the court to acquit him. His solicitor has indicated he may now appeal his sentence.

First published at 14:15, Friday, 30 July 2010
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