The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) [official website; JURIST news archive] on Monday handed down its first conviction [judgment, PDF; press release] in the case of former Khmer Rouge [BBC backgrounder] official Kaing Guek Eav [case materials; JURIST news archive], also known as "Duch." The court found Kaing guilty of crimes against humanity and of violating the 1949 Geneva Conventions, sentencing him to 35 years in prison. Prosecutors had sought a 40-year sentence, but the court reduced his sentence due to mitigating factors such as his cooperation with the trial, admission of responsibility, remorse and the potential for rehabilitation. Kaing also gets credit for time served, including a period of "illegal detention" by the Cambodian Military Court starting in 1999 and his period of detention during his ECCC trial. Kaing had also faced charges of premeditated murder and torture under domestic Cambodian law. Kaing was not convicted of these charges, however, because the judges were unable to come to a majority [judgment, PDF] on the charges, leaving the court unable to convict under the ECCC law [text, PDF]. Kaing was the head of the Tuol Sleng detention facility under the Khmer Rouge between 1975 and 1979. The court found that, during this time, more than 12,000 people were killed due to mass executions and the conditions in the facility.
Kaing unexpectedly asked to be released [JURIST report] at the close of his trial in November. His request was a complete departure from his previous conduct, as he had cooperated with the trial and repeatedly apologized to his victims and their families. His lawyers took different approaches in their closing remarks, with one stating that his client was not guilty and the other asking for clemency. In March 2009, Kaing accepted responsibility and apologized [JURIST report] for his conduct at the detention facility. He is the first of eight ex-Khmer Rouge officials expected to be tried before the ECCC. In April, the pre-trial chamber of the ECCC dismissed appeals by three other former Khmer Rouge officials [JURIST report] to block the extension of their provisional detention. The three prisoners, Ieng Thirith, Ieng Sary and Khieu Samphan, were arrested in November 2007 and face charges of genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, murder, torture and religious persecution. The tre-trial chamber found in each case that "there is sufficient additional evidence in the case file to demonstrate that the case has progressed expeditiously" and that further detention while the investigation continues is reasonable given the "gravity and nature of the crimes" charged.