RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:
More than three decades after the Khmer Rouge unleashed its reign of terror in Cambodia, one of its leaders finally will pay for those crimes. An international war crimes court handed down a sentence of 35 years to a former prison commander for the torture and execution of thousands of fellow Cambodians. NPR's Jackie Northam was at the courthouse in Phnom Penh when the verdict and the sentence were announced.
JACKIE NORTHAM: Kaing Guek Eav, who goes by the single Duch, looked on impassively as Chief Judge Nil Nonn of the International War Crimes Tribunal handed down the sentence.
NIL NONN: (Through translator) In deciding on an appropriate sentence, the chamber has noted a number of aggravating features, including the shocking and heinous character of the offenses.
NORTHAM: Duch could've faced life in prison. Instead, he was sentenced to 35 years. But court spokesman Lars Olsen says between mitigating circumstances, time served and time held illegally by a military court, Duch could spend much less time than that in prison.
LARS OLSEN: So it means that if the verdict becomes final, meaning not appealed, he has another 19 years to serve.
NORTHAM: Keari Singh(ph) was sorely disappointed in the verdict. She says Duch should've received many life sentences. Singh says the 67-year-old Duch could still be alive in 19 years.
KEARI SINGH: It's not conceivable that he could walk the street, even for one minute, as a free man. Anything less than 30, 35 years is unacceptable.
NORTHAM: Still, Singh, whose mother and father were killed by the Khmer Rouge, says she's glad she was in the courtroom today.
SINGH: It's very important to be here as a society to repudiate, collectively, the crimes - the massive crimes of the past and to join in the fellowship of suffering and the hope that we have now.
NORTHAM: Duch is the first of five Khmer Rouge leaders to face trial. The remaining four are still being held in detention. The leader of the Khmer Rouge, Pol Pot, died in 1998. Yem Mam(ph) traveled from Philadelphia to attend the trial. His father, wife and several children were killed by the Khmer Rouge. Only three out of fifteen people in his family survived the regime. Mam says regardless of today's result, he has faith in the Cambodian war crimes system.
YEM MAM: (Through translator) I want to see the prosecution of all the big perpetrators. Today is just one verdict. This is a proper legal mechanism that respected the rule of law, and it must be used to prosecute other Khmer Rouge leaders.
NORTHAM: Jackie Northam, NPR News, Phnom Penh.
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