Court weighs fate of man who ran Khmer Rouge torture prison

Story highlights

  • "Duch" ran a notorious torture prison in Cambodia in the 1970s
  • He was sentenced in 2010 to 35 years in prison
  • At least 1.7 million people died under the Khmer Rouge
Cambodia's war crimes court is to rule Friday on an appeal by a man who ran a notorious torture prison where more than 14,000 people died under the Khmer Rouge regime in the 1970s.
Kaing Guek Eav, commonly known by his alias, Duch, was found guilty of war crimes in 2010 and sentenced to 35 years in prison, though he would not have served more than 19 years. The judge took off five years for the time Duch was illegally detained before the United Nations-backed tribunal was established, and another 11 years for the time he had already served behind bars.
Duch was 67 at the time of his convictions, which were also for crimes against humanity, murder and torture. He was was the head of the S-21 prison. Few people taken to the prison made it out alive; only about a dozen were found by the Vietnamese, who invaded Cambodia in 1979.
The judge, in announcing Duch's sentence, said he took into consideration that the defendant had expressed remorse, admitted responsibility and cooperated with the court. The judge also took into account the "coercive environment" of the Khmer Rouge, he said.
Duch pleaded guilty and asked for forgiveness. In the trial, he argued that international law did not apply to him because he was just following orders.
The tribunal began its work in 2007 after a decade of on-and-off negotiations between the United Nations and Cambodia over the structure and functioning of the court. The 2010 verdict was the court's first.
At least 1.7 million people -- nearly a quarter of Cambodia's population -- died under the 1975-1979 Khmer Rouge regime from execution, disease, starvation and overwork, according to the Documentation Center of Cambodia.