In Cambodia, the Khmer Rouge tribunal is providing fresh insights about Pol Pot's bloody regime.
trial of Kang Guek Eav, also known as Duch, has gone into recess after
testimony that ultimate responsibility for death camps like S-21 lay
with Nuon Chea. Known as Brother Number Two, he awaits trial.
who ran the S-21 prison in Phnom Penh, told the court there were 196
such camps, now known as the Killing Fields, between 1975 and 1979.
During those years, as many as two million people or a third of this
country's population, perished under the Khmer Rouge government.
said the camps were based on a prototype called M-13, built in 1971 in
a communist-held zone when Pol Pot's forces battled the U.S.-backed Lon
Duch's preferred weapons for torture were whips
and electric shocks, he said, as they were simpler than waterboarding
and less likely to kill the victim during questioning. Testimony in the
trial resumes later this month.
Theary Seng, executive director of
Cambodia's Center for Social Development, says Duch's testimony has
gone a long way in telling ordinary Cambodians what happened under the
ultra-Maoist Khmer Rouge.
"Even for us who have been
following the tribunal since its establishment, who have been reading
up on the tribunal, on the history of the Khmer Rouge, we have found
surprising pieces of information we had not seen or read before," said
Duch also testified that Chinese diplomats and trade
officials were in Cambodia at that time and were shielded from the
killings going on behind the scenes.
The Khmer Rouge were ousted
in 1979, after Vietnam invaded Cambodia, but many kept fighting in
parts of the country into the 1990s. Pol Pot, the leader, went into
hiding and was not found until 1997. But he died in 1998, before being
brought to trial.
The Cambodian government and the United
Nations negotiated for several years on setting up a human rights court
to try other senior Khmer Rouge. The Duch trial is the first. But many
of his colleagues have died, and the survivors are elderly, raising
fears that very few Khmer Rouge leaders will be brought to justice.
Seng says testimony like Duch's is cathartic for the country and is
sparking debate among Cambodians who normally prefer not to talk about
their tragic past.
"One of the most important aspects of the
Duch trial has been hearing his words, his confessions, his
explanations directly from himself…. So the Khmer Rouge tribunal is
shedding light on this very, very dark period and it's helping to write
history for Cambodians," said Seng.
And this, say human rights activists, should go a long way in helping to heal the survivors of the Killing Fields.