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Book Examines Duch’s Trial and Its Effect on Victims

Book cover of “When the Criminal Laughs" by Chy Terith. (Courtesy of Documentation Center of Cambodia)
Book cover of “When the Criminal Laughs" by Chy Terith. (Courtesy of Documentation Center of Cambodia)

Chy Terith is the executive officer of Sleuk Rith Institute. He recently authored a book titled, “When the Criminal Laughs.”

The book describes the trial of Kaing Kek Iev, the supervisor of Tuol Sleng prison better known as Comrade Duch, who was found guilty by the UN-backed Khmer Rouge tribunal in 2012.

Chy Terith says he became interested in the case while working with victims of the Khmer Rouge in 2008. Duch is the only Khmer Rouge leader to have gone through a whole trial, even though the court was established in 2006. He did not give victims the resolution they sought.

As Andrew Cayley and William Smith write in the book’s forward: “the trial created a collision between the killer and the families of those killed.”

Duch and his victims had come together at Tuol Sleng, known to the Khmer Rouge as S-21, 30 years earlier, and at the court, Duch and their families met for the first time.

“Unlike their tortured and murdered relatives, the families wanted this confrontation,” Cayley and Smith write, “not to forgive Duch but to hear him explain why he tortured and killed and also to make known to him and the world—the destruction he wreaked, not only on those murdered, but on their families left behind.”

In the end, “Duch did not seek forgiveness,” they write, “but he wanted to apologize and show he was not a monster but simply an instrument of party politics.”

Chy Therith said in a recent interview he wanted to explore that relationship.

“The victims were so disappointed with him, that he and his lawyers asked the court to release him,” he said. “They thought that he did not tell the truth about what happened when he served as chief of S-21 during the Khmer Rouge times.”