Cambodia took a significant step this month in facing up to its brutal past under the Communist regime known as the Khmer Rouge, which was responsible for the deaths of 1.7 million people from 1975 to 1979.
The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, or ECCC, a United Nations-backed court, found Duch, the former head of the Khmer Rouge's notorious Tuol Sleng prison, guilty of crimes against humanity, grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions, and other crimes. The court sentenced Duch to 35 years in prison for overseeing the torture and killing of more than 12,000 people. His prison term was reduced by 5 years to compensate for a period of illegal military detention, and he will receive credit for the 11 years he has already spent in prison from the time of his initial arrest in 1999.
The U.S welcomes the tribunal's historic verdict and completion of the trial against Duch, which represents a milestone for the rule of law in Cambodia. The U.S. applauds the commitment of the national and international judges for their comprehensive and independent work to uphold international standards of justice and due process in this case.
The Cambodian tribunal will reconvene later this year to start proceedings against other former Khmer Rouge leaders. 4 surviving members of the top Khmer Rouge leadership are accused of crimes against humanity and war crimes. In addition to those tortured to death and executed in "killing fields," many people died of starvation, disease or overwork or in the forced evacuation of Phnom Penh, in which an entire population of the city was driven into the countryside.
These 4 defendants include Ieng Sary, 84, who was foreign minister; his wife Ieng Thirith, 78, who was minister of social welfare; Nuon Chea, 84, known as Brother No. 2; and Khieu Samphan, 78, who served as head of state during the regime. Their trial is scheduled to begin in early 2011.
The United States has long supported bringing to justice the senior leaders and those most responsible for the atrocities perpetrated under the Khmer Rouge regime. In a signal of its ongoing commitment to support the court’s efforts, the United States announced in March that it would contribute an additional $5 million to the court.