Chhay Visoth, the director of the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, presents documents that were found in Prison S-21 in Phnom Penh. They consist mostly of handwritten confessions and résumés that the prisoners were forced to write. Even more records have been compiled by the Documentation Center of Cambodia. Many of the atrocities committed by the Khmer Rouge, however, were never documented on paper.
Credit: Hubertus Knabe
Two survivors raising the judgement against Kaing Guek Eav, the former director of Prison S-21, in Case 001, as it is called in Cambodia. According to the court, under his leadership at least 12,273 people were tortured and executed. More than 30 years passed before the head of the Khmer Rouge’s death factory was convicted in 2010. Nevertheless, the verdict is a key document in Cambodia’s struggle for transitional justice.
The decision of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia is dated July 26, 2010. In terms of its scope, it could be a doctoral thesis. It describes in detail on 281 pages what happened in the special prison - from its creation in October 1975 to its abandonment in January 1979.
The list of documented crimes against humanity found by the court is long: the execution of foreigners, children and high-ranking prisoners; arbitrary deprivation of liberty, enslavement and mass executions; torture, including rape, deprivation of food and denial of medical treatment; lack of hygiene, blood sampling and medical experiments. The court meticulously lists how the prison was organized and who performed which tasks. It also describes the recruitment and training of prison staff.
In coming to its verdict, the court was aided by the former prison chief’s willingness to largely confess to the charges. The defendant admitted that interrogators were allowed to use four violent interrogation techniques: beatings, electric shock, suffocation with a plastic bag and waterboarding. Beating was the most common interrogation method. The defendant’s willingness to testify was considered a mitigating factor by the court.
The judgment states that during the course of the trial, the Chamber examined about 1,000 documents. Many of the submitted documents came from the Documentation Center of Cambodia (DC-CAM). This non-governmental organization has created the world’s largest archive on the Khmer Rouge – with over 155,000 pages of documents and 6,000 photographs. It was established with the help of Yale University in the United States. From 1994 and 2012, the university conducted a research project on the genocide in Cambodia, which was financed by the Cambodian Genocide Justice Act of the U.S Congress.
In 2010, the court sentenced Kaing Guek Eav to 35 years in prison. His unlawful imprisonment from 1999 to 2007 led to a five-year reduction in his sentence. However, the prosecution appealed the sentence, which was subsequently increased to life in 2012. At the court’s expense, 10,000 copies of the judgment and 17,000 copies of a summary were distributed to all the communities in Cambodia, as well as to its libraries, schools and other public institutions. Kaing Guek Eav died in September 2020.
In August 2014, Khieu Samphan, the former head of state of Kampuchea and Nuon Chea (“Brother No. 2”), the former chief ideologist of the Khmer Rouge, were also sentenced to life imprisonment for crimes against humanity. Nuon Chea died in August 2019 in a prison in Phnom Penh.
Click here for the English version of the judgment in Case 001.
After the Dictatorship. Instruments of Transitional Justice in Former Authoritarian Systems – An International Comparison
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