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Khmer Rouge jailer gets life on appeal

Kaing Guek Eav, better known as Duch, asked for a full acquittal because he was “following orders” – but the man responsible for some 15,000 deaths during the brutal Khmer Rouge regime will spend the rest of his life behind bars.


A notorious Khmer Rouge jailer who oversaw the deaths of some 15,000 people was sentenced to life on Wednesday in the landmark first case at Cambodia's UN-backed war crimes court.

Kaing Guek Eav, better known as Duch, was previously given 30 years in 2010 for war crimes and crimes against humanity. He would have been eligible for parole after 18 years.

Duch had appealed for an acquittal claiming he was just following orders. But prosecutors also appealed what they - and thousands of Khmer Rouge victims - saw as a lenient sentence.

On Friday judges extended that sentence to life because the initial punishment “did not reflect the gravity of the crimes” committed in the late 1970s.

Crimes amongst worst in recorded history

"The crimes by Kaing Guek Eav were undoubtedly among the worst in recorded human history. They deserve the highest penalty available," said Kong Srim, president of the court's highest appeal body.

“This sentence has bought a wave of relief throughout the country,” said FRANCE 24’s Southeast Asia correspondent Cyril Payen. “This relief is particularly acute among the millions of survivors of the Khmer Rouge genocide who despaired at the original sentence.”

Led by Paris-educated dictator Pol Pot, who died in 1998, the Khmer Rouge was responsible for some of the worst horrors of the 20th century.

Some two million people – nearly a third of Cambodia’s population – were murdered or died of starvation under the brutal regime.

Duch was the first members of Khmer Rouge leadership to face the international tribunal.
Over the course of his nine-month trial Duch, who has converted to Christianity and asked for forgiveness from his victims, repeatedly apologised for his crimes while running the notorious S-21 prison.

The much harsher sentence will be welcomed by Cambodians, as the tribunal has been under fire for proceeding slowly and amid accusations of political interference.

The court has also been dogged by a lack of funds, with hundreds of employees of the legal system not receiving their salaries.

Another trial involving the regime's three most senior surviving leaders opened last year – but these men are all in their eighties and there are real concerns that they will not live long enough to see a verdict.

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