Friday, 4 February 2011

Witnesses to history: NIU professors recall day first Khmer Rouge verdict handed down

The public gallery at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia in Phnom Penh is crowded with onlookers July 26, 2010, when the U.N.-backed war crimes tribunal handed down its first guilty verdict against a senior Khmer Rouge figure. NIU faculty members Kenton Clymer (history) and Judy Ledgerwood (anthropology) were there. (Courtesy of Reuters)

via CAAI

NIU professors and Cambodia specialists Kenton Clymer (history) and Judy Ledgerwood (anthropology) were at the proceedings last July in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, when the first verdict against a senior Khmer Rouge leader was handed down by an United Nations-backed international war crimes tribunal currently underway in that country.

Clymer and Ledgerwood will discuss the verdict against Kaing Guek Eav, better known as Duch, at the Center for Southeast Asian Studies’ weekly lunchtime lecture from noon to 12:50 p.m. Friday, Feb. 4, in Room 110 in the Campus Life Building.

As director of the infamous Tuol Sleng prison during the 1975–79 Khmer Rouge regime, Duch was responsible for the deaths and torture of more than 14,000 Cambodians imprisoned there. His guilty verdict and 35-year sentence marked the first verdict by an internationally recognized court against the Khmer Rouge, who are estimated to have caused the deaths of more than 1.7 million Cambodians during their brutal regime.

Clymer and Ledgerwood, who were in Cambodia on separate projects over the summer, were seated in the public gallery at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia directly in front of Vann Nath, a famous painter and one of the dozen or so survivors of Tuol Sleng.

“It took an hour to read the verdict. It was very long and very complicated,” Ledgerwood said.

During the reading, there was emotional reaction in the crowd when the names of the victims were read and when the 35-year sentence was handed down, then reduced by five years because of Duch’s illegal incarceration by the Cambodian Military Court from 1999 t0 2007. With credit given for time already served, the 69-year-old Duch will serve 19 more years in prison.

“Many Cambodians were very upset that the sentence seemed short,” Ledgerwood said. “I felt it was OK because, given his age, it means he is likely to die in prison.”

Cambodia does not have the death penalty.

Duch was successfully prosecuted, Ledgerwood said, because authorities had the cooperation of the former math teacher. “Duch is the only one [of surviving Khmer Rouge leaders] who has said that ‘I did this, it was wrong, and I’m sorry,’ ” she said. “[Khmer Rouge leader] Pol Pot went to his grave saying he’d done nothing wrong.”

Ledgerwood and Clymer went to the court proceedings with Cambodian villagers to witness the verdict. These villagers were brought to Phnom Penh by the Documentation Center of Cambodia, a nonprofit group originally affiliated with Yale University’s Cambodia genocide research program. Four surviving and now elderly Khmer Rouge leaders are still awaiting trial, expected to begin later this year.

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