Ultima Thule

In ancient times the northernmost region of the habitable world - hence, any distant, unknown or mysterious land.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Former torturers turn accusers and confront the killing fields

The Genocide Museum at Phnom Penh.

By Aussiegirl

Confronting a bloody past is painful but necessary, as Cambodia looks to expose the killing fields and torture chambers of the Khmer Rouge and to stage trials of those guilty of participating.

In the former Soviet countries this has not happened.

America fought a bloody and devastating civil war to purge itself once and for all of the stain of human slavery. The Nuremberg trials attempted to redress at least some of the pain caused by the evils of the Nazi regime and to publicize its crimes. But the crimes of communism are still hidden, and no one has been called to account. Many of those who participated in the mass executions and tortures of the communist era are still living in the population, collecting their pension checks like any loyal civil servant. Until the peoples of these countries confront the massive crimes of their former rulers, they can never progress into the future without once again risking falling into despotism and authoritarianism. The poison must be purged and exposed.

Cambodia looks into doing what must be done to come to terms with its tragic past.

Former torturers turn accusers and confront the killing fields - World - Times Online

AMID the bamboo stilt houses and paddy fields of Anlong Sah village, a wiry middle-aged rice farmer and father of nine is preparing to recount his career as a Khmer Rouge executioner.
Since the fall of the regime, Him Huy, 52, has lived quietly, as have an estimated 30,000 other former low and mid-level cadres. To the chagrin of some surviving victims, there is no prospect of individuals such as Mr Huy being charged with crimes committed in their former profession as the authorities fear that such a step would reignite civil war.

Instead, he will soon be a willing accuser in a tribunal that finally takes its first symbolic step today after ten years of muddle and procrastination.

Seventeen Cambodian and thirteen international judges will attend a swearing-in ceremony in Phnom Penh’s ancient palace, with priests reciting prayers for the souls of the 1.7 million victims, and the Government and the international community reiterating their commitment to the trial.

Next year two survivors from the party’s leadership will be charged with crimes against humanity and genocide for their roles in the killing fields between 1975 and 1979.

Organisers of the $56.3 million (£30 million) UN-backed trial hope that it will help Cambodia to confront its past.

Mr Huy wants a chance to explain his actions. His neighbours already know what he did. Most have seen his photograph alongside black and white portraits of thousands of victims in the Tuol Sleng genocide museum, the school building in the capital that became Cambodia’s most notorious interrogation centre.

When he was recruited into a predominantly teenage guerrilla army in 1973, Mr Huy was a homesick 17-year-old village boy, and he insists that after its victory he was brainwashed with Maoist propaganda then forced to inflict pain on and execute enemies of the regime.

Paintings in the museum by a survivor depict devilish-looking guards whipping and drowning inmates.

Mr Huy says that he is a victim of the regime as much as anyone else. His commander at Tuol Sleng, a former maths teacher called Duch, will be one of the two defendants when proceedings get under way next year in a converted military barracks. The other will be Ta Mok, “the Butcher”.

The plan is to prosecute about twelve defendants during the five years that the hearing is expected to last.

Most of the likely accused are in their seventies and eighties, so there are doubts about whether they will live to hear the verdicts.

The trial still has no exact start date, funding is short and there has been criticism of the competence of the Cambodian judges by human rights groups and the Royal Family.

There are fears that there will be no real investigation because of links between the old regime and government members.

Hun Sen, the Prime Minister, was in the Khmer Rouge until he defected in 1977, although nobody is accusing him of any crimes. Prince Thomico Sisowath, who lost his parents in the terror, said: “If the Government really wanted this trial to delve into Cambodia’s past they would have held it in The Hague. I am very doubtful about how it will work in practice. There are too many links between the ruling party and the Khmer Rouge.”

Senior Khmer Rouge leaders live openly in Cambodia, including Nuon Chea, “Brother Number Two”, Khieu Samphan, the former head of state, and Ieng Sary, a former Foreign Minister, who has a mansion in Phnom Penh next door to the homes of some of his former victims. They may eventually find themselves on trial.

Youk Channg, the director of the Documentation Centre of Cambodia, believes that the hearing is needed.

He said: “Although Cambodia today looks normal, people are still traumatised. The perpetrators need a trial most of all. It will help them to understand what they did.”

Rath Nim, 54, who lives a few miles from Mr Huy, is another likely witness. She was a party member and a cook at Tuol Sleng. She wants to testify against Duch. “He was a powerful, frightening man who constantly exhorted us to work harder,” she said. “I saw many people tortured and killed. My friends were made to confess and to accuse each other, then led off to the killing fields.”

Mr Huy claims that he was coerced. “I was forced to be part of that clique,” he said. “Duch was very polite but his heart was brutal.”

One of the seven survivors from the thousands tortured in Tuol Sleng refuses to forgive. Chum Mey, 76, was a lorry driver when he was accused in 1978 of being a CIA spy, after Mr Huy had left the prison.

He remembers the Khmer Rouge cadres as teenagers with AK47s who enjoyed projecting an aura of fear. He has met Mr Huy several times, arguing with him during a radio station phone-in, and believes that he should be on trial.

“The prison guards were not victims,” he said. “While I was waiting to die, they were waiting to kill.”


The Khmer Rouge was founded in 1951 as the People’s Revolutionary Party of Cambodia and disbanded by Pol Pot in 1996

Groups targeted by the regime included Buddhist monks, Western-educated intellectuals, the physically handicapped, ethnic Laotians and Vietnamese

Khmer Rouge victims were often executed with hammers, axe handles, spades or bamboo sticks

Son Sen, the Defence Minister, was executed with 11 of his family in 1997 for trying to make a settlement with the Government

Pol Pot was arrested in 1997 and sentenced to lifelong house arrest. He died in 1998, apparently of a heart attack

Of nine members of the Khmer Rouge Central Committee between 1975 and 1979, five are alive

About three quarters of Cambodians are too young to remember the Khmer Rouge years


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