Khmer Rouge killer/Christian convert: The Church of England Newspaper, July 30, 2010 p 6. August 3, 2010Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Church of the Province of South East Asia, Crime.
First published in The Church of England Newspaper.
A UN-backed War Crimes Tribunal in Phnom Penh has sentenced the commandant of the Khmer Rouge’s main death camp to 35 years imprisonment for crimes against humanity.
The trial of Kang Kek Iew, whose revolutionary nom de guerre was ‘Comrade Duch’, has been compared to the trial of Adolf Eichman in Jerusalem, and has served as a cathartic political and historical moment for the Southeast Asian country. He is also the only Khmer Rouge leader to have admitted his participation in the genocide that killed an estimated 2 million Cambodians between 1975 and 1979.
The Duch trial has also been an exercise in Christian doctrine for the predominantly Buddhist country. In 1996, while in hiding from his crimes, Comrade Duch converted to Christianity.
On July 26, the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) held that when Comrade Duch commanded Camp S-21 he was responsible for the torture and deaths of an estimated 17,000 enemies of the regime.
“He worked tirelessly to ensure that S-21 ran as efficiently as possible and did so out of unquestioning loyalty to his superiors,” the ECCC said, noting that his zeal led to his promotion as head of the Santebal, the Khmer Rouge’s internal security apparatus.
After the Communist seizure of power in 1975, the Khmer Rouge under their leader Pol Pot emptied Cambodia’s cities, forcing residents into collective farms and forced labour projects, with the goal of forming a Utopian society.
Approximately 21 per cent of Cambodia’s population died following the restarting of civilization in “Year Zero.” The regime collapsed in 1979 when Vietnam invaded the country and from 1979 to 1997 Pol Pot and his supporters operated in the jungles in along the border with Thailand. A factional split within the Khmer Rouge led to Pol Pot’s house arrest in 1997, and he died in captivity in 1998.
Four leading figures of the former regime are awaiting trial before the ECCC. However, Khieu Samphan, Ieng Sary, Ieng Thirith and Nuon Chea are unrepentant and have defended the record of the Khmer Rouge. Hun Sen, the current Prime Minister of Cambodia, is also a former official of the Khmer Rouge regime who defected to Vietnam in 1979, and has dismissed any suggestion that he stand in the dock for his part in the regime. Unlike his former Khmer Rouge colleagues, Comrade Duch has asked for forgiveness from the Cambodian people for his crimes.
Comrade Duch’s trial began in March 2009 and concluded last November. The ECCC reported that over 28,000 people followed the proceedings from the public gallery, while the trial was broadcast across the country.
In addition to his testimony about Cambodia’s killing fields, the country learned that while in hiding in 1995, Comrade Duch heard a Cambodian-American Protestant missionary preach in a village near Battambang. Two weeks later Duch approached the Rev Christopher LePel and asked to be baptised.
On Sept 24, 2009 Mr LePel told the court that he did not know who his new convert was, but said the man he knew as Hang Pin confessed to him he had done things that “couldn’t be forgiven.”
Mr LePel said that after converting from Buddhism to Christianity, Duch changed from that of a man with “no joy, no peace, no purpose in life” to someone whose “heart wanted to share the word of God to his friends and family.”
The minister noted that his parents and a brother and sister had died at the hands of the Khmer Rouge and a number of friends had perished at S-21. However, as a Christian he had forgiven Duch. “I hate the sin, but I love the sinner,” he told the court.
The prosecution discounted Duch’s conversion, noting that a court-appointed psychologist believed it was insincere. The prosecutor told the court that while Christianity promises instant forgiveness, Buddhism would require many cycles of rebirth to expiate his crimes. Duch had made a pragmatic decision to become a Christian to avoid bad karma, prosecutors claimed.
Mr LePel said he was convinced of Duch’s sincerity, saying that in a 2008 jailhouse visit he “was sorry for the crimes that he did in the past and that he did not rejoice for what he had done.”
“I am proud of him for his willingness to accept his crime and punishment,” Mr LePel told the court.
With credit for time served, Comrade Duch will serve 19 years in prison for his crimes.