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Khmer Rouge war criminal Duch seeks acquittal at appeal


Phnom Penh : Lawyers for the Khmer Rouge’s former security chief, Comrade Duch, asked the UN-backed war crimes tribunal Wednesday to acquit and release their client on the grounds that international law did not apply to him.

Last year, the tribunal sentenced Duch to 35 years after finding him guilty of involvement in the deaths of at least 12,272 detainees at S-21, the Khmer Rouge’s secret prison.

Duch headed S-21, where thousands of perceived enemies of the revolution were tortured, interrogated and then executed.

Reductions for time already served and the fact that he was held illegally by the Cambodian authorities ahead of his trial meant that Duch, whose real name is Kaing Guek Eav, would serve 19 years.

But Wednesday Duch, whom the tribunal last year convicted of war crimes and crimes against humanity, told the appeal court he did not fall within its jurisdiction. He said blame for his crimes lay with his political masters whose orders he had merely followed.

“The senior leaders were the most responsible because they designed policy and implemented it,” he said in reference to the court’s mandate to prosecute the movement’s surviving senior leaders and those considered most responsible for the crimes of the Khmer Rouge regime.

A cornerstone of the defence’s appeal has been to conjoin those two phrases, with its controversial conclusion being that Duch, who was not a senior leader, was therefore not one of those most responsible and should be freed.

The 68-year-old defendant also told judges that he accepted that he bore personal responsibility for the suffering of the thousands murdered at S-21.

“I still ask forgiveness for the souls of the people who lost their lives,” he said.

The lower court’s 2010 ruling on Duch was also appealed by the prosecution and by lawyers for victims and their families, known as civil parties.

The prosecution said it wanted the appeal division to impose a sentence of at least 45 years on Duch, saying the 35-year term handed down last year was “manifestly inadequate”.

And lawyers for civil parties protested the lower court’s ruling on reparations, during which it rejected most requests including one that a memorial be built for victims and their families at S-21.

The appeal court is scheduled to deliver its judgment in June.

International prosecutor Andrew Cayley said this week that Duch’s cooperation with the court during his trial in 2009 had been “insincere and opportunistic”.

He pointed out Duch’s spectacular turnaround at the end of that trial when he reversed his “guilty but sorry” plea and asked to be acquitted and released.

Cayley also said the trial chamber had mistakenly given too much weight to mitigating factors – such as remorse – when determining Duch’s sentence.

“In respect of remorse, the accused’s continued requests for release underscores in a case like this – involving massive criminality – the fact that the accused to this day lacks real sincere remorse for what happened,” Cayley said.

Duch is the first person the international court has found guilty of crimes committed under the Khmer Rouge regime, which ruled Cambodia between 1975 and 1979. During the movement’s rule of the country as many as 2.2 million people died from execution, overwork, illness and starvation.