Saturday, September 18, 2010

Duch Verdict on 26/7/2010 delivers Only Partial Justice

Crowd gathered at the entrance of the ECCC

This is my complete reflection on Duch Verdict on 26/7/2010

All distinguished members of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC)—both Cambodian and international—deserve praise for their achievement and contribution in bringing the Khmer Rouge Tribunal to its first verdict. Despite the intricacies and the difficulties of the task, there has been a huge amount of work accomplished through the professional effort and collaboration of all involved.

As a silent victim in search of the truth and justice, I went to the ECCC to experience firsthand the delivery of the verdict on the trial of former S-21 (Toul Sleng) prison chief AING Guek Eav, commonly known as Duch. In the court chamber, I sat alongside more than 500 observers to personally witness the hybrid justice proceeding. It was a moving experience and historic event for all the victims, who have waited more than 30 years to experience some sort justice for the thousands upon thousands of Cambodians who were detained, tortured and executed under Duch’s command. For his role in these atrocities, Duch stood trial for intentional murder, torture, one case of rape, illegal imprisonment, mass execution and other sadistic acts. Found guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity, Duch was convicted and sentenced to 35 years imprisonment. However, according to the court decision, he will serve only 19 years in prison because he has already spent 11 years in pre-trial detention and received another five years clemency for cooperating with the court.

I have long anticipated the response that this verdict would elicit. Yet, when the president of the trial chamber, Judge Nil Nonn, summarized Duch’s crimes and announced the reduction of his sentence, I felt doubtful that most Cambodians would understand and accept these legal concessions to Duch. When it registered that Duch would serve a mere 19 years—or as one lawyer now famously characterized it, a meager 11 ½ hours for every life that he stole—I predicted that this leniency would be difficult for the victims’ families and the broader Cambodian public to comprehend.

This pursuit of justice, however incomplete, is at least the first step toward establishing a historical record of truth, admitting guilt, and perhaps pursuing some type of reconciliation and healing. But national and international victims still have many questions. There are concerns that due to lack of funds and the old age of the KR leaders awaiting on trial, the ECCC should complete its term and find tangible justice as soon as possible. Time and funding are of the main essence: will the due process of justice in which the investigation process alone to build up Case Two can take months, if years, to complete be too little, too late? What is the view of the donors in trying to gather wider support from the international community, especially from the United States and China? What is the budgeting prospect beyond 2010? These are just the logistic concerns—what about broader issues of societal perceptions and future directions? How might this hybrid court promote accountability and human security in general, particularly in relation to Cambodia embracing the principle of responsibility to protect (R2P)? How might the ECCC end impunity, promote national reconciliation, deter future atrocities, and finally contribute to building an accountable local judiciary that is legitimate in the eye and the feelings of the victims? At the end of the KRT process, will Cambodians experience and internalize a sense of justice? Will the ECCC satisfy the Khmer people’s emotional feeling that justice is finally served, particularly when it seemingly offers lenient sentences and distills the whole of the Khmer Rouge’s guilt to the trial of only a few individual leaders?

At the end of this first verdict, I feel that the ECCC succeeded in establishing a record of truth of the mass killings, but failed to satisfy the survivors’ emotional feeling of justice with the shortening of Duch’s prison term. Justice is not just delivered, it is experienced. Khmer people place moral value in the hope that the verdict would release them internally, emotionally. From my observations, for Cambodian victims, justice was not fully served. For the Khmer Rouge survivors, this ruling does not completely acknowledge the scale and perversity of the violations. More work and fuller understanding of the victims’ side are necessary if the ECCC is to deliver a real justice, end impunity, and promote national reconciliation.