Kang Kek Iew
|“||I beg your pardon ... I know you cannot forgive me, but I ask you to leave me hope that you can.||„|
|~ Kang Kek Iew|
Kang Kek Iew (17 November 1942 - 2 September 2020) was a war criminal and former senior official of the Khmer Rouge, which ruled Democratic Kampuchea from 1975 to 1979. As the head of the government's internal security branch (Santebal), he oversaw the Tuol Sleng (S-21) prison camp where thousands were held for interrogation and torture, after which the vast majority of these prisoners were eventually executed. He reported directly to Son Sen, who served as Minister of National Defense.
Kang Kek Iew was born in Choyaot village, Kampong Chen subdistrict, Kampong Thom Province, to an ethnic Chinese family who migrated to Cambodia in his father's generation. A star pupil in his school, he passed his Brevet d'études secondaires de première in 1961 at the age of nineteen. He finished the first half of his Baccalaureate in 1962 at the Lycée Suravarman II in the town of Siem Reap. The same year he was offered a place in the prestigious Lycée Sisowath in Phnom Penh where he completed his Baccalaureate in mathematics, scoring second in the entire country.
From his childhood on, Kang's name was changed many times. One such occasion of name changing took place when he was 15, when his parents changed his name to Yim Cheav.
As the name is important in Chinese culture, Kang therefore gave his name to his grandson, significantly adding the Chinese name "Yun" to this name.
He was described by his former classmates as a bright and quiet boy who rarely smiled during his youth.
Communist groups in France's former colonies in Indochina borrowed the French World War II expression 'maquis' when referring to their resistance movements in the jungles.
In the zone under the control of the Khmer Rouge, Kek Iew took on his nom de guerre Comrade Duch and became a prison commandant. He was appointed the head of Special Security by his immediate superior Vorn Vet. In the forests of Amleang, Thpong District, Duch set up his first prison, code-named 'M-13'. Two years later, he also established a second prison 'M-99' in the nearby Aoral District.
Assisted by his two deputies, Mam Nai (Comrade Chan) and Tang Sin Hean (Comrade Pon), Duch began perfecting his interrogation techniques and the purging of perceived enemies from the Khmer Rouge ranks. Prisoners at these camps, mostly from the ranks of the Khmer Rouge, were routinely starved and tortured to extract real and made-up confessions.
Prisons like Tuol Sleng were created to cleanse the population of suspected enemies of the revolution. In Tuol Sleng Duch ordered the execution of prisoners after their interrogation was completed. For example, on a list containing the names of 17 prisoners (eight teenagers and nine children), he wrote the order “Smash them to pieces.” On a longer list of detainees, his annotation reads “smash: 115; keep: 44 persons.” The text below this annotation reads “Comrade Duch proposed to Angkar; Angkar agreed.” On a list of 20 female detainees, Duch wrote annotations for each of them, ordering: “take away for execution,” “keep for interrogation” or “medical experiment". At least 100 detainees died after having all of their blood drawn for transfusions for wounded soldiers. Surgical operations were also performed on detainees in order to train medical staff.
Duch impressed his superiors with his work and was appointed the head of Democratic Kampuchea's secret police, known as the Santebal.
As the party purges increased towards the end of the Democratic Kampuchea period, more and more people were brought to Duch, including many former colleagues including his predecessor at Tuol Sleng, In Lon. Throughout this period, Duch built up a large archive of prison records, mug shots and extracted "confessions".
On 6 January 1979, he was ordered by his superior to kill the remaining prisoners. The next day Duch was amongst the last Khmer Rouge cadres to flee Phnom Penh after it fell to the Vietnamese army. Though he was unable to destroy much of the prison's extensive documents, he saw to the execution of several surviving prisoners before he fled the city.
He was the first Khmer Rouge leader to be tried by the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia for the crimes of the Khmer Rouge regime, and was convicted of crimes against humanity, murder, and torture for his role during the Khmer Rouge rule of Cambodia and sentenced to 30 years' imprisonment. On 2 February 2012, his sentence was extended to life imprisonment.
Even though he was responsible for the death of thousands of people, Kang Kek Iew, unlike other Khmer Rouge cadres (like Pol Pot), didn't try to dismiss or justify his crimes. He always admitted that he had been wrong and that he had done horrible things; he said that he repented and that he had converted to Christianity. Moreover, during the trial, he provided detailed accounts of what happened inside S-21 and inside the Khmer Rouge regime, and this helped shed light on the regime and other cadres' responsibility.
After serving ten years in prison, on 2 September 2020, Duch died at the age of 77 at a hospital in Phnom Penh of incurable lung disease. Due to the complicated situation of COVID-19 in Cambodia, he was quickly cremated on that same day without a proper funeral.