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International Experts Consider Meaning of Duch Case

International donors have praised the conclusion of the Khmer Rouge tribunal in the case against prison chief Duch. Many victims remain unsatisfied. Now international experts are beginning to look at the meaning of Duch’s verdict last week.

“Given the scale of the crimes and the fact that Duch represents the first and only step to date in addressing three decades of impunity, it is understandable that many victims are disappointed,” James Goldston, executive director of the Open Society Justice Initiative, said in an e-mail this week. “This only underscores the need not to stop here, but for the [tribunal] to try its remaining cases to conclusion.”

The court took years to stand up. And Duch’s trial took months to complete. The commuted sentence of 19 years has left victims angered. But Goldston said the completion of one trial had implications for the others, as the tribunal prepares its next case.

“The challenge now is to build on the successful conclusion of the first case in completing the remaining cases,” he said. “All parties—the Cambodian and international staff of the Court, the Cambodian government, and the international community—must redouble efforts to ensure that cases 2 and 3/4 are all tried to conclusion.”

Only five senior Khmer Rouge leaders are currently in tribunal custody. Nuon Chea, Khieu Samphan, Ieng Sary and Ieng Thirith, and possibly Duch, will be tried under Case No. 002, which includes genocide charges.

More cases would require more arrests, something Prime Minister Hun Sen openly opposes. Hun Sen and other members of the government were themselves members of the Khmer Rouge, albeit lower-ranking cadre.

Peter Maguire, a professor and author of “Facing Justice in Cambodia,” said last week’s verdict and the slow pace of the court was a reminder that Hun Sen has “played with the UN like a cat with a mouse” since the Untac-backed elections of 1993.

“If they can finish Case Two while the defendants are still alive, I’ll be surprised,” he said, “and happy to call it a success.”

Investigations in Case No. 002 have been completed and it is expected to go to trial at the beginning of next year.

Katherine Marshall, a visiting professor at the University of Cambodia and a senior fellow at Georgetown University, said the wide publicity of the first trial and discussions it brought about ere positive.

But more steps are needed in the reconciliation process, she said.

“Trials are only a piece of the needed moves for accountability, taking account of the past, and making sure the memories of those who suffered and died live on and teach the living,” she said. “Teaching in schools, books, television, blogs all can serve vital roles.”