What an odd contrast Cambodia can be: On the same day as torture chief Duch publicly asked the people for forgiveness, prime minister Hun Sen did everything he could to obstruct the Khmer Rouge tribunal.
It was expected by everyone following the Khmer Rouge tribunal in Phnom Penh. Yet the events which took place in the tribunal today were nothing less than historic and carry great symbolic significance in a nation still struggling with traumas from a brutal past.
For the first time a senior Khmer Rouge leader asked the victims for forgiveness for his evil acts during the Pol Pot regime (1975 – 1979).
“I would like to apologise to all surviving victims and their families who were mercilessly killed at S-21″, said Kaing Guek Eav, better known as Duch.
Duch was the head of the torture prison Tuol Sleng, also known as S-21, where up to 17.000 people were tortured. All but a few of them were later killed.
“I feel shock whenever I think of the actions I took and the orders I gave to others, which claimed so many innocent lives”, Duch stated.
I believe the apology will play an important symbolic role in Cambodia’s difficult healing process. While more senior leaders of Khmer Rouge, like Nuon Chea, Ieng Sary and Khieu Samphan, have maintained that they did not know about the atrocities, Duch’s apology is a powerful statements to the millions of victims that the actions of the regime were indeed wrong.
Compare this to prime minister Hun Sen’s actions today: He warned that adding defendants to the tribunal would spark a new war in Cambodia. Rather he would see the court run out of money.
“Don’t talk to me about the budget shortfall. I wish the court would have a budget shortfall as soon as possible”, he said according to Associated Press.
Hun Sen’s statements are simply not worthy a prime minister in a country with huge mental wounds after one of the most brutal regimes the world has seen in modern history. Instead Hun Sen, who used to be a Khmer Rouge officer before defecting in 1977, should have taken the opportunity to reach out to the victims. As a leader of the nation it is his responsibility to support rather than obstruct the long and difficult road to justice.
Between 1,5 and 2 million people are believed to have died during the Khmer Rouge regime. Wounds need to be healed and faith in justice restored.
Today it was the torture chief who helped his country step forward while the prime minister tried to obstruct.
Some news articles from today’s hearing:
- Los Angeles Times: Khmer Rouge prison chief takes blame for killings
- Financial Times: Torturer gives first Khmer Rouge apology
- The Telegraph: Notorious Khmer Rouge killer Comrade Duch confesses his crimes
Some blog postings: