The decision of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia to sentence Duch, the brutal Chairman of S-21 and the Killing Fields at Choeung Ek, to a mere nineteen years in prison exemplifies the disturbing tendency of international criminal tribunals to issue sentences of pedestrian severity to the world’s very worst criminals. This article examines the sociopolitical roots of this phenomenon. Drawing on insights from the political science literature to engage in a comparative analysis of the relationship between democracy and punishment, the article concludes that international criminal tribunals’ lenience likely stems, at least in part, from excessive insulation from, and insensitivity to, democratic pressures. The experiences of the United States—where democratic participation in the machinery of punishment and excessively punitive sentencing have gone hand in hand—counsel against allowing popular sentiment to directly dictate the terms of punishment. Yet international jurists could arrive at a more just sentencing framework by incorporating popular preferences and values into their decision-making processes.
The first trial of a Khmer Rouge leader commenced on Tuesday. Kaing Guek Eav, 66, known as Duch, was a commandant of Security Prison 21, where he was allegedly involved in sending 14,000 Cambodians to their death. Duch is charged with crimes against humanity and war crimes and faces Cambodia’s maximum of life imprisonment. The case, the first of what human rights activists hope will be at least three trials, will be decided by a UN-backed hybrid tribunal consisting of both Cambodian and foreign judges and prosecutors. Meanwhile, four additional Khmer Rouge leaders await their trial, which will likely not proceed until next year.
Human rights activists have expressed concern that the Cambodian government has mixed interests and wants to shield the former Khmer Rouge leaders in its own ranks. The Khmer Rouge, regime, led by Pol Pot, lasted from 1975 to 1979 and is believed to be responsible for the deaths of 1.7 million people.
Extraordinary Chambers, Courts of Cambodia
The first courtroom hearing in the Extraordinary Chambers of the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), a joint United Nations/Cambodia tribunal for the prosecution of war crimes committed by the Khmer Rouge, concluded today. The defendant in these proceedings, Kaing Guek Eav, commonly known as Duch, headed the Tuol Sleng prison, where more than 14,000 perceived enemies of the regime were tortured and killed during the Khmer Rougeâ€™s brief four-and-a-half year reign.
At the hearing, Duch appealed his detention, arguing that holding him in captivity without trial for a period of eight years had violated international and Cambodian law, as well as his human rights. The latter contention drew laughter from spectators. Arguing against the grant of bail, prosecutors claimed that Duch posed a flight risk, and that his release could engender public disorder. The Tribunal reserved judgment on the issue, stating that the ruling would be given at a later date.
The hearing began one day after the arrest of Khieu Samphan, former President of the Khmer Rouge. Samphan is the last of five defendants initially targeted by ECCC prosecutors.
The full story can be found here.
Ieng Sary, former Foreign Minister and Deputy-Prime Minister of the Khmer Rouge, and his wife, former Social Affairs Minister Ieng Thirith, were arrested Monday by Cambodian police on charges of crimes against humanity. Sary was also charged with war crimes.Sary is alleged to have promoted policies of forcible transfer, forced labor, and unlawful killings while a member of the Khmer Rougeâ€™s ruling inner circle. Ieng Thirith, Pol Potâ€™s sister-in-law, is accused of planning, directing, coordinating, and ordering widespread purges and of unlawfully killing members of the ministry that she once ran.
An estimated 1.7 million people died as a result of the regimeâ€™s 1975-1978 reign.
The pair will be tried by a special war crimes tribunal convened by the Cambodian government and the United Nations. The panel will consists of five judges, two foreign and three Cambodian.
The Tribunalâ€™s press release can be found here.
The full story can be found here