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Duch is Dead

One of the last chiefs of torture in the Khmer Rouge is dead. He was only convicted in 2010 – a symbol of the delayed justice in Cambodia.

The former head of torture of the Khmer Rouge is dead. Since his arrest in 1999, Kaing Khek Iev, alias “Comrade Duch” (pronounced Doik, for some reason), had been behind bars, initially without a formal indictment until he was Found guilty in 2010 and sentenced to 35 years in prison. It was a tough road until then. Duch symbolically embodied the manner in which the legal processing of the Khmer Rouge atrocities had dragged on.

Apart from the former chief of torture, other senior ex-cadres have lived undisturbed and in freedom for decades. They owed this not least to Cambodia’s increasingly dictatorial Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has pardoned a number of former Khmer Rouge officials since he took office more than 35 years ago.

At the same time, Hun Sen never tires of hindering further legal processes. The prime minister is himself a former officer of the Khmer Rouge who defected to the Vietnamese in 1977. He had made it clear several times that beyond the small circle of the original five defendants – including Duch – there would be no more trials. Hun Sen, under whose rule the country degenerated into a one-party state, even warned that there could be a new civil war if more details from Cambodia’s dark past were to come to light.

Real justice for the victims of the terror regime looks different. They can no longer expect anything from the political leadership. With the exception of the former head of state of the Khmer Rouge, Khieu Samphan, who is now 89 years old and who has been sentenced twice to life, none of the five is alive.

The Khmer Rouge chief ideologist Nuon Chea, who was also sentenced to life imprisonment twice, died in 2019. In two other cases no verdict was passed: The Khmer Rouge Foreign Minister Ieng Sary has been dead since 2013. His wife, the former Minister of Social Affairs Ieng Thirith, was declared incapable of standing trial because of dementia and died in 2015.

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