Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Duch Supreme Court hearings open

Duch Supreme Court hearings open

Duch Supreme Court hearings open

Appeals in the case of former S-21 prison chief Kaing Guek Eav began at the Khmer Rouge tribunal yesterday with a contentious debate on the court’s jurisdiction and its right to try the accused, better known as Duch.

Prosecutors, the defence and civil party lawyers have all appealed the original judgment handed down last July, in which Duch was found guilty of crimes against humanity and grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions and sentenced to 30 years prison. Yesterday’s proceedings focused on the defence appeal, with lawyers Kar Savuth and Kang Ritheary charging that Duch falls outside the court’s mandate to prosecute “senior leaders” and those “most responsible” for crimes committed under Democratic Kampuchea.

In a rambling and often incoherent address at the outset of the hearing, Kar Savuth accused the tribunal of violating Cambodian law in its decision to try Duch, referencing documents including the 1991 Paris Peace Agreements and the 1994 Law to Outlaw the Democratic Kampuchea Group that he said restrict prosecutions of Khmer Rouge cadres.

“When there was a dispute between Thailand and Cambodia at the border, there was an appeal to the international community to really force Thailand to respect the law,” Kar Savuth said, drawing chuckles from the gallery. “When Thailand does not really respect these regulations, we say that Thailand is behaving unlawfully, and we believe that this tribunal would not really follow the footsteps of Thailand.”

Kar Savuth later added that because the Khmer Rouge were “lawless”, “whatever any individual did was not against the law”. He also questioned why former KR standing committee members So Phim and Ta Mok had not been identified as suspects by the court. 

Ta Mok was arrested in 1999 before dying in custody in 2006. So Phim committed suicide in 1978.

Both Kar Savuth and Kang Ritheary also questioned why Duch could be considered one of those “most responsible” when the dozens of other prison chiefs of the DK era had not been arrested as well.

“Duch [was] merely the chief of a prison, similar to the 195 chiefs of prisons throughout Cambodia,” Kar Savuth said, adding that many former KR officials had been peacefully reintegrated into the government without facing charges. 

“Even now at the Ministry of Defence, there are former Khmer Rouge cadres who have rank and status,” he said.

Terith Chy, head of the Victim Participation Project at the Documentation Centre of Cambodia, said the defence arguments were “probably more for the crowd than for the judges”.

“That’s our worry.... [that] people might buy what Kar Savuth has said, because he’s such a character, but we feel that these are not the legal arguments that [a] judge is looking for,” Terith Chy said.

“It’s obvious it’s unfair, why just one prison chief is prosecuted and why not others, but looking from the available evidence at the court, looking at the gravity of what happened in Tuol Sleng, looking at the responsibility of Duch ... he’s the type of person to be prosecuted.” 

Co-prosecutor Chea Leang said the jurisdictional challenge was illegitimate since it had not been raised during the initial hearing as required by court rules. That aside, she said Duch was clearly one of those “most responsible” for Khmer Rouge crimes.

“The policy of the Communist Party of Kampuchea was implemented by the security centres, and the security apparatus was the heart of the policy of the CPK in smashing enemies,” she said. “S-21 was the most important office in this apparatus.”

Civil party lawyer Martine Jacquin added that Duch had “full control over the actions of his subordinates and over everything that happened at S-21”, a facility in which nearly all of the perhaps 14,000 people who entered were eventually killed.

The accused himself spoke only briefly at the beginning of the hearing, telling the court that he authorised his lawyers to act on his behalf. Wearing a white jacket over a button-down shirt, he appeared frail and at times did not seem to be paying attention to the proceedings.

Eng Try, 56, of Kampong Cham province, said outside the court that he had lost his parents and six siblings to the Khmer Rouge and strongly opposed the defence team’s bid for acquittal.

“My suffering from the Khmer Rouge regime is tremendous. He should serve life imprisonment,” Eng Try said.

Prosecutors requested in their appeal that Duch receive a 45-year jail term, commuted from life in prison because of his excessive pre-trial detention. This issue will be discussed when the tribunal reconvenes today.


  • Over $3M in traffic fines collected in two months

    Traffic police officers collected over $3 million in fines throughout the Kingdom during the past two months when officers strictly enforced the law in accordance with a May sub-decree, officials said. As incentives, law enforcement officers received between 200,000 and two million riel ($50 to $500) each. The figures

  • More than 10,000 workers suspended

    More than 10,000 workers at 18 factories in Svay Rieng province have been suspended because of Covid-19, said provincial deputy governor Ros Pharith. Home to 11 special economic zones, Pharith said Svay Rieng has not been spared as the pandemic takes a toll on the global economy. “There

  • Accused not treated equally, says CCHR

    The Cambodia Centre for Human Rights (CCHR) has urged the Court of Appeal to do more to ensure that an accused’s right to a fair trial is fully respected. In a bulletin released on Monday, the CCHR said it had monitored 273 cases at the

  • Investors’ $14.4M projects approved

    New investments from local and foreign sources continue to pour into Cambodia despite the Covid-19 pandemic remaining a lingering threat to regional and global economies. This comes as the Kingdom’s gross domestic product (GDP) is expected to contract between one and 2.9 per cent this

  • NagaWorld casinos set to reopen, schools to follow

    NAGACORP Ltd has requested that it be allowed to reopen its NagaWorld integrated resorts in Phnom Penh after the government recently approved casinos to operate again, provided they follow Covid-19 prevention measures set by the Ministry of Health. Mey Vann, the director-general of the Ministry

  • Rubber exports stretch 17%

    Cambodia exported 97,175 tonnes of natural rubber in the first five months of this year, surging 17 per cent compared to the same period last year as the Covid-19 pandemic stretches on, Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries official Khuong Phalla told The Post on Thursday. Phalla,

  • ASEM supports Kingdom’s proposal to postpone meeting amid Covid

    The 13th Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM13) scheduled to be held in Cambodia in November has been postponed until mid-2021 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, a Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation press statement released on Saturday said. The decision was made during a two-day meeting

  • Coffee maker roasted for producing fake product

    The Ministry of Interior’s Counter Counterfeit Committee will send a suspect to court on Monday after she allegedly roasted coffee mixed with soybeans and other ingredients, creating a product which could pose a high risk to consumers’ health. On the afternoon of July 2, the

  • Cash handout programme 80% complete

    Minister of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation Vong Soth confirmed on Thursday that the implementation of the Cash Transfer Programme For Poor and Vulnerable Households During Covid-19 had been implemented for more than 80% of the over 560,000 families. The programme was introduced one week ago.

  • Cambodia armed with money laundering laws

    Money laundering will now carry a penalty of up to five years in prison while those convicted of financing terrorists will be jailed for up to 20 years, according to new laws promulgated by King Norodom Sihamoni and seen by The Post on Thursday. Comprising nine