Three decades after the tragedy of Cambodia’s so-called “Killing Fields,” the Khmer Rouge’s alleged torturer-in-chief has gone on trial.
Kaing Gech Eav, alias Duch, looks like an elderly schoolmaster but is accused of presiding over the torture and death of more than 17,000 people. He ran Phnom Penh’s interrogation centre, S-21, a symbol of Pol Pot’s genocidal regime which killed nearly two million Cambodians in the 1970s. Hundreds of ordinary people gathered for Duch’s trial, including the artist Vann Nath. He managed to survive S-21 because he was chosen to paint portraits of Pol Pot and other Khmer Rouge leaders. “Today is the day Duch gets his come-uppance,” said Vann. “But I am not sure the judges will find justice for us.” The trial finally gives Cambodia the chance to understand what happened to their country in one of the darkest chapters of the 20th century. Nearly every Cambodian family lost someone to the Khmer Rouge’s mania. Pol Pot’s forces turned Cambodia into a vast concentration camp. Nearly a quarter of the population died, stripped of their possessions, their families, their very humanity. Thousands were murdered for being “intellectuals” – even wearing glasses could mean a death sentence.