UN expert hails 'milestone' Khmer Rouge verdict
The UN human rights expert on Cambodia on Tuesday hailed the conviction of a Khmer Rouge prison chief for crimes against humanity as a "historic milestone" in tackling impunity in the country.
UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Cambodia Surya Subedi welcomed the verdict delivered on Monday by the UN-backed war crimes tribunal in Phnon Penh against Duch, whose real name is Kaing Guek Eav.
Duch was found guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity on Monday and sentenced to 30 years in jail for his role in overseeing the mass murder of 15,000 men, women and children at the prison he ran.
"It represents a historic milestone in holding those responsible for human rights violations accountable for their actions," said Subedi in a statement.
Duch was the first Khmer Rouge cadre to face an international tribunal over crimes committed under the 1975-1979 hardline communist regime.
His defence lawyer said Tuesday that he would appeal against the court's decision.
Although it took three decades to bring the prosecution amid domestic political pressures, Subedi said the outcome demonstrated the Cambodian government's commitment to ensuring accountability and the rule of law.
"I hope that this landmark conviction will serve as a catalyst for the government to address impunity and accelerate its legal and judicial reforms," he added.
The cash-strapped court is preparing its second case next year against the four most senior living Khmer Rouge leaders, but experts have warned that it faces political and financial pressures.
Cambodian and international prosecutors have openly disagreed on whether the court should pursue more suspects, while the Cambodian investigating judge has refused to summon high-ranking government officials as witnesses.
Prime Minister Hun Sen -- himself a mid-level Khmer Rouge official before turning against the movement -- said last year he would prefer to see the court fail than open new cases, which he warned would stoke civil war.
The UN expert expressed the hope that Monday's verdict would help strengthen the independence of the judiciary in Cambodia.
© 2010 AFP