Khmer Rouge Executioner ‘Duch’ Dies in Prison in Cambodia

By Richard Finney
2020-09-02
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khmer-duch-090220.png Khmer Rouge prison chief Kaing Guek Eav, also known as Duch, is shown on trial in the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia in undated photos.
ECCC

Khmer Rouge prison chief and executioner Kaing Guek Eav, also known as Duch, has died in a Cambodian hospital at the age of 77, Cambodian government and other sources said on Wednesday.

A former schoolteacher, Duch was responsible as head of the notorious Tuol Sleng, or S-21, prison in Cambodia for the deaths, often after brutal torture, of more than 12,272 prisoners held by the communist Khmer Rouge regime during 1975-79.

Duch died in the early morning hours of Sept. 2 in the Khmer-Soviet Friendship Hospital, Cambodia’s National Co-Prosecutor said in a press release. Duch’s cause of death was not specified, and will now be investigated by “national authorities,” the co-prosecutor’s office said.

He was sentenced in 2012 by a UN-backed war crimes tribunal, the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), to life imprisonment following requests by prosecutors and victims’ families to increase a 35-year prison term imposed two years before.

A born-again Christian who hid for two decades in Cambodia’s countryside before his arrest in 1999 following which he spent 12 years in military detention, Duch had appealed the first sentence imposed, saying he had only followed orders in his capacity as prison chief.

But prosecutors had also appealed, claiming that his punishment was not sufficient to reflect the gravity of his crimes.

Speaking to RFA’s Khmer Service on Wednesday, survivors and victims’ relatives welcomed the news of Duch’s death, with one former prisoner held by the Khmer Rouge calling the former prison chief “a butcher.”

“Duch was deceitful during his trial, even pretending to cry [while hearing testimony against him],” said No Min, who had been held by Khmer Rouge jailers in Cambodia’s Kampong Cham province.

“He was a well-educated person, and had even been a teacher. I would never have thought he could do the things he did,” he said.

Kith Eng, the wife of former S-21 prisoner Vann Nath, voiced relief at the news of Duch’s death, saying the prison chief had blindfolded and electrocuted her husband during questioning. Meanwhile, Srey Pov—a Cambodian worker living in Thailand—said she was not yet alive at the time of Duch’s crimes.

“But I feel very sad for the previous generations, who died and left only their skeletons behind. When I saw the pictures, I cried,” she said. “I am not sad to see that Duch has died.”

Duch’s death is now a “symbol of justice” for his victims, Cambodian government spokesman Phay Siphan said, adding that Cambodia had been obligated under international law to bring Duch and other senior Khmer Rouge leaders to trial.

“What the government has done is to prevent the return of the Khmer Rouge, which could lead to another genocide,” he said.

In a statement Wednesday, Australia’s ambassador to Cambodia Pablo Kang noted Australia’s long record of financial  and other support to the ECCC, which was set up to hold former Khmer Rouge leaders to account for the deaths of more than 1.6 million Cambodians during their three-year rule.

“Australia’s thoughts are today with those who suffered at the hands of the Khmer Rouge and [with] their families,” Kang said. “Australia is proud to have supported the work of the ECCC and remains committed to international norms for the protection and promotion of human rights both in Cambodia and across the globe.”

Led by the notorious Pol Pot, the ultra-Maoist Khmer Rouge killed as many as 2 million Cambodians from 1975-79 through starvation, overwork, or execution in a bid to create an agrarian utopia. They were finally removed from power by Vietnam, which invaded Cambodia in 1979.

Reported by the Cambodian Service. Translated by Samean Yun.

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