Lawyers for the convicted former chief of Cambodia’s most notorious prison under the Khmer Rouge have argued at an appeal that he was not responsible for the deaths of some 15,000 people and that he was only following orders.
Kaing Guek Eav, 68, commonly known as Duch, was convicted by a U.N.-backed war crimes tribunal last July to 30 years in prison for his role overseeing the Tuol Sleng prison in the late 1970s.
But both the defense and the prosecution have been appealing the decision in a three-day process that began Monday. The prosecution, which hopes to have Duch’s sentence increased to life, will make its case on Tuesday.
Ka Savuth, one of Duch’s lawyers, told the Supreme Court judges of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) that in accordance with Cambodian law, his client should be released.
“It does not matter what crimes Duch committed, the law cannot punish him,” he said.
“Duch should be outside of the ECCC’s jurisdiction. He was only a prison chief receiving orders from his superiors.”
The same line of defense was used by Nazi war criminals during the Nuremburg trials in the aftermath of World War II, but an International Tribunal ruled that following orders did not absolve perpetrators of their actions.
Duch, who had apologized for his actions at his earlier trial, spoke briefly to the court, saying he did not deny his wrongdoing, but was appealing the court’s jurisdiction to try him.
Thousands were tortured and executed at Tuol Sleng, also known as S-21, when it was used as a Khmer Rouge detention center.
The former jailer was initially handed 35 years in prison at the conclusion of his trial for which he was found guilty of crimes against humanity, torture, and premeditated murder, but the court reduced his sentence, saying he had already been illegally detained for years.
He was detained in 1999 after he was found to be working as a Christian aid worker in the jungle but was not formally arrested until 2007.
Prosecutors are concerned that Duch could be freed in less than 19 years based on time already served and are seeking to increase his sentence to life, which would be commuted to 45 years.
The ECCC’s Supreme Court Chamber is expected to rule on the appeals in late June.
The tribunal will try an additional four more members of the Khmer Rouge regime later this year, and Duch will be called to appear as a witness in the cases.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer service. Translated by Sum Sok Ry. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.