NEW YORK (August 16, 2010) – Prosecutors at the United Nations-backed tribunal into war crimes committed under Khmer Rouge rule in the late 1970s today launched an appeal against the 35-year jail term handed out to the head of a notorious detention camp run by the regime. Last month, Kaing Guek Eav, whose alias was Duch, was found guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity and sentenced by judges in the trial chamber of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC).
But in a statement issued today following the appeal’s launch, the prosecutors said the sentence “gives insufficient weight to the gravity of Duch’s crimes and his role and his willing participation in those crimes.”
The prosecutors also said that the judges placed “undue weight” to mitigating circumstances when they determined the length of the prison sentence.
The first person to stand trial before the court, Mr. Kaing headed the S-21 camp, also known as Tuol Sleng, where numerous Cambodians were unlawfully detained, subjected to inhumane conditions and forced labour, tortured and executed in the late 1970s.
The trial chamber found that Mr. Kaing not only implemented, but also actively contributed to the development of the policies of the Communist Party of Kampuchea (CPK) at S-21.
In deciding on a sentence, the ECCC said that it took note of several factors, including the gravity of the offences. Although prisoner lists from S-21 show that at least 12,272 people were detained and executed, the trial chamber believes the number of victims is considerably larger.
The chamber also decided on a finite sentence instead of life imprisonment due to the defendant’s cooperation with the ECCC, his admission of responsibility and the potential for rehabilitation, among other factors.
Mr. Kaing’s sentence was reduced by five years due to his illegal detention by the Cambodian Military Court between 1999 and 2007, and he is already entitled to credit for time already served. This means he may serve 19 years.
The prosecutors said today that Mr. Kaing should be separately convicted of the crimes against humanity of enslavement, imprisonment, torture, rape, extermination and other inhumane acts.
“These crimes should not have been subsumed into the crimes of persecution and torture,” they argued, adding that they believe the legal elements of the crime of enslavement are not properly defined in the judgement.
In a separate development, the prosecutors today formally requested that the ECCC’s investigating judgement that four people – Nuon Chea, Ieng Sary, Khieu Samphan and Ieng Thirith – are indicted and sent for trial for the crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity, grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions and violations of the 1956 Cambodian penal code. All four were senior figures under the Khmer Rouge.
The prosecutors said “the evidence collected in the investigation demonstrates that the charged persons committed these crimes through a joint criminal enterprise, the purpose of which was to enforce a political revolution in Cambodia and systematically destroy any opposition to the CPK’s rule.”
Estimates vary but as many as 2 million people are thought to have died during the rule of the Khmer Rouge between 1975 and 1979, which was then followed by a protracted period of civil war in the impoverished South-East Asian country.