Wednesday, 29 April 2009

The Khmer Rouge on trial, 23 April, 2009

Out Tuk Tuk driver told us on the way home from S-21 that we could go visit Duch (the chairman of S-21 in prison). We politely declined, none of us wanted to peer in through a cell window and look at the man who did all of this. After a little bit more chat we realised that the tuk tuk driver meant court, not jail.

Of course, the Khmer Rouge trials were in session at the moment (I had seen it on the news a few weeks earlier). This I wanted to see. I felt that by going to watch the trial in action I would be able to satisfy my desire for justice for the Cambodian people.

It was just Hannah and I that went to court to watch the trial. We were both a little apprehensive in the tuk tuk. What would this be like? Would we be frowned upon as tourists? Would there be any Cambodians there? What were we letting ourselves in for?

It was failry simple to get into the court. Only my tiger balm and gum were confiscated by the security guards.

I was overwhelmed as I walked into the viewing gallery. There were around 250 cambdians seated, waiting for the trial to begin. We found out from an usher that most of the people had left their viallages at 2am and piled into buses and pick uup trucks just to be present at the trial and witness the proceedings. Cambodians old and young were say on the edge of their seats waiting for the morning session to commence. Every single person was sat there wearing the traditional Cambodian scarf, the clutched them as they waited. From what I'd seen the previous day I couldnt understand why Cambodians still wore these scarves. Other than black pajamas the traditional scarf was the only thing that people were permitted to wear under the regime. It made me view them as symbols of opppression so I couldn't understand how thye could still wear them. People smiled at us as we entered and looked upon us with kindness.

We were given a headset (everything was translated into Khmer, French and English) and lots of papers detailing all the details of the trial so far and mini biographies of the lawyers and barristers involeved.

The Court opened and Duch sat in the seat to be questions - sorry, i don't know any legal jargon - witness box maybe?

Thorughout the morning session Duch (the former chairman of S 21) looked at neither the camera or the judges. His sunken dark eyes fixed on an empty spot in the court and he answered the questions he was asked. Duch's face was heavily line, it had witnessed so much. It had inflicted so much.

The morning session lasted 2 hours and I was gripped. Questions included the hierarchy of power in S-21, the structure of S-21, how Duch had become chairman.

The most poignant question asked by the prosecution was this: "What was the purpose of S-21?" Duch answered slowly: "S-21 was for torture... interrogation... detaining... and... smashing... by which I mean killing." It wasn't as if I didn't know that this was the purpose of S-21, but hearing it from the horses mouth made me ache inside. I had the chills all over. It really wasn't a suprise, but he said these words with great calmness.

I left the trial satisfied. It is taking a long time for those involved in the Khmer Rouge to be brought to justice, but justice is being sought and will eventually be granted. I hope for the sake of the Cambodian people who suffered that justice will be granted soon. I was so happy to see Cambodias turning out with such presence seeking their desrved justice.

During the court I also realsied something very important. the scarves. The poeple were not letting themselves be oppressed by the scarves, the scarves predated the oppressive regime og the khmer rouge, and the people kept their scarves as symbols as national pride to refute the oppression they once suffered. As a nation united the cambodian people were not going to remain downtrodden by their history.

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