PHNOM PENH – Survivors of the Khmer Rouge’s notorious Tuol Sleng prison on Wednesday hailed the indictment of their former chief tormentor, Duch, saying justice was one step closer for victims of the regime.
Kaing Guek Eav, better known as Duch, became the first suspect indicted by the UN-backed genocide tribunal on Tuesday.
The 65-year-old was charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity for allegedly overseeing the torture and extermination of more than 12,000 men, women and children when he headed Tuol Sleng.
Investigations are still underway into four other former Khmer Rouge leaders detained by the court for crimes committed by the bloody 1975-1979 communist regime, under whose rule up to two million people died.
“We are happy to see this outcome. Justice is getting closer for us,” said artist Vann Nath, one of 14 survivors of Tuol Sleng. “I have been waiting for justice for 30 years. This time, I have high hopes for justice.”
Fellow survivor Chum Mey, a mechanic who like other Tuol Sleng survivors was spared only because he had a skill that was useful to his captors, echoed Vann Nath’s sentiments, saying: “Justice is nearer.”
“I am very pleased with the indictment. I am happy. I have been waiting for justice for so long,” he told AFP.
Chum Mey, however, warned that the cash-strapped court may not be able to try all of the ageing Khmer Rouge leaders, who are suffering from poor health.
“I am very concerned… I am afraid that the court will not be able to bring all five leaders to justice because they are very old.”
Duch’s trial is expected to open in late September or early October and could last up to four months, tribunal officials have said.
Duch, a former mathematics teacher, has been in prison since 1999 for his role at Tuol Sleng.
He was transferred to the custody of the UN-backed court in July last year, becoming the first top Khmer Rouge cadre to be detained by the tribunal.
The indictment order, posted on the tribunal website, said more than 12,380 people were executed at Tuol Sleng — also known as S21 — most after suffering inhuman detention conditions and prolonged mental and physical torture.
Thousands of inmates were also taken from the centre for execution at Choeng Ek, now known as the Killing Fields.
Established in 2006 after nearly a decade of negotiations between Cambodia and the UN, the long-stalled tribunal seeks to prosecute crimes committed 30 years ago by senior Khmer Rouge leaders.