Khmer Rouge jailer loses appeal, gets life term

A Cambodian court rejected an appeal by notorious Khmer Rouge jailer Kaing Guek Eav, better known as Duch, and extended his sentence to life in prison. Duch was convicted in 2010 of crimes against humanity

REPORTING FROM NEW DELHI -- A Cambodian court Friday rejected an appeal by a notorious Khmer Rouge jailer and extended his sentence to life in prison after dismissing his argument that he was a junior official only following orders.

Kaing Guek Eav, better known as Duch, was convicted in 2010 of crimes against humanity for running the Tuol Sleng "S-21" prison, where more than 10,000 people were tortured and executed. The prison, a security hub for the Khmer Rouge regime, was often a way station for inmates subsequently slaughtered in a nearby orchard. The brutal period was depicted in the 1984 British film "The Killing Fields."

Duch appealed his 35-year prison sentence last year, a legal strategy that backfired when the court increased it to life. He showed no emotion at Friday's decision.

"The crimes by Kaing Guek Eav were undoubtedly among the worst in recorded human history," Judge Kong Srim said as hundreds of survivors gathered outside the court. "They deserve the highest penalty available."

Trials for the regime's three most senior surviving leaders -– all in their 80s -- on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity are ongoing amid concern they may not live long enough to face a verdict. Pol Pot, the French-educated leader of the rural, anti-intellectual movement, died in 1998 without publicly explaining the rationale for the killing spree, which was also an indictment of an international system that largely stood by as it happened.

The case against Duch closes at least one chapter in the decades-long battle for justice, because it's the first one that's been wrapped up involving those who committed crimes against humanity during the brutal four-year period of Khmer Rouge rule in the late 1970s. Experts and activists say up to 2 million people, or about a quarter of the impoverished nation's population, were executed or died of starvation, disease or overwork.

The trials have been controversial in Cambodia, where many former Khmer Rouge members, including Prime Minister Hun Sen, serve in senior government positions, leading to wrangling over the court's legitimacy and procedures. 

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-- Mark Magnier 

Photo: Tourists view skulls of Khmer Rouge victims on display at the Choeung Ek Genocidal Center in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, on Friday as former regime jailer Kaing Guek Eav, better known as Duch, saw his sentence for crimes against humanity raised to life in prison. Credit: Mak Remissa / EPA

 
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