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Cambodia's first step toward justice for Khmer Rouge

Kaing Guek Eav, who led the Khmer Rouge's notorious S-21 prison, was indicted Tuesday.

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Just after dawn Tuesday, Kaing Guek Eav, better known as Duch, gathered his clothes from the military prison cell he has lived in for the last eight years and walked, silent and expressionless, to a waiting car.

Duch is the only man facing charges for the crimes committed by the Khmer Rouge, a radical communist regime that oversaw the deaths of some 1.7 million people – roughly one quarter of the population – when it ruled Cambodia in the late 1970s.

Experts say Duch could be a key witness in the long-delayed efforts to bring justice to the people of Cambodia, and in a Wednesday statement from the court Duch said he "is ready to reveal the crimes committed by the Khmer Rouge."

For Cambodians, Duch's journey to the international criminal court represents the culmination of a decades-long wait for justice followed by more than a year of legal wrangling between the international community and the Cambodian judicial system.

Duch's indictment is surely a sign of progress for the troubled court, but many still worry that the justice handed down will be too late and too narrow to permeate the cover of impunity and secrecy that surrounds Cambodia's Khmer Rouge past. Duch's arrest and detention surprised no one, and some argue that the real tests of this court, which unlike any other international criminal court, operates under national control, are still to come.

"We hope that charging Duch is the start of real progress on the trials," Brad Adams, Asia director for Human Rights Watch, wrote by email from London. "But it was impossible not to charge him, as he was already in custody and has confessed to his crimes in media interviews. The first real test is whether Nuon Chea, Khieu Samphan, Ieng Sary, and Ieng Thirith are soon charged and arrested," said Mr. Adams, referring to other Khmer Rouge leaders who have been implicated in human rights crimes.


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