July 26, 2010

Cambodia in the News


The man known as "Duch" has been sentenced to 35 years in prison for his role in the death of thousands. Duch ran the infamous Toul Sleng "S-21" Prison in Phnom Penh. In this former high school, 14,000 people were killed under the Khmer Rouge regime.

In the above article, survivors of the Khmer Rouge are unsatisfied with the 35-year sentence. Bou Meng's statement gets the message across: "I underwent brutal torture. Although Duch did not hit me himself, he ordered his men to hit me in front of him. This hurt me. The verdict seems to slap me in the face and kick me in the head." Other survivors shared the sentiment that this sentence did not bring justice to a man who committed crimes against humanity.

What is justice in this situation? The judge accounted for the time Duch has already spent in prison, the coersive Khmer Rouge environment, and the remorse Duch expressed for his actions. Duch will spend the rest of his life in prison, but is it enough? Does a mere 35 years mock the suffering of a nation under a brutal regime?

The lasting effects of the Khmer Rouge still grip Cambodia, and for me, the verdict on Duch is insufficient. The sentence is an important acknowledgment of Duch's responsibility for crimes against humanity, but I don't think 35 years reflects the continuing impact of the horrors at S-21. I'm an eye-for-an-eye kind of lady, and Duch doesn't have enough eyes to pay up. The survivors and the children and grandchildren of those who weren't so lucky deserve justice and closure. Cambodians are ready to make something better for their lives, but they need a solid foundation. Coming to terms with the genocide in the 1970s is a crucial step to redefining Cambodia's future.