More than 1,000 people participated in the initial hearing for jailed Khmer Rouge prison chief Duch on Tuesday, marking the official launch of the first trial ever for the hybrid courts.
Even though the hearing was mostly procedural, with judges discussing witnesses, evidence and scheduling, it was an emotional day for those who have waited a long time for the oft-delayed tribunal to reach the trial stage.
Van Nath, the 63-year-old survivor of Tuol Sleng prison, which was run by Duch, said he had not slept well the night before, and had come very early to join the initial hearing.
“The day that I have waited for for so long is coming,” he told VOA Khmer outside the courts. “We will see justice for victims, coming soon.”
Norng Chan Phal, who survived the prison as a young boy, but whose mother did not, said he was still angry with Duch, who faces charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity, torture and murder for his role as head of the prison, known as S-21 to the Khmer Rouge.
“When I saw him brought to the dock, my feelings became abnormal,” the 39-year-old survivor said. “If Cambodian law had a death sentence, I would want him sentenced to death.”
Vietnamese cameraman Ho Van Tay, 76, who was among the Vietnamese that pushed the Khmer Rogue from the prison and from Phnom Penh, said he was relieving the same feelings of shock he’d had as Vietnamese forces entered the city.
This is an important day for the Cambodian people to see justice, he said.
Many others had similarly strong reactions to the opening of the trial, which will actually begin in earnest next month.
Del Chhres, a 75-year-old villagers from Kampong Thom province, said he wanted the tribunal to “punish” Duch. He also wanted to see an end to impunity in Cambodia.
Thong Samnang, a 24-year-old monk, said he, like others, wanted to see Duch punished, “in order to clear their minds.”
Tribunal spokesman Reach Sambath said the day was a very big day for Cambodians, because the justice they have been waiting for was getting “closer and closer.”