Going to Cambodia, I vaguely knew the dark history of the Khmer Rouge’s” communist genocide.
A dictator, Pol Pot, led his Khmer Rouge forces to eliminate the educated, minority peoples or anyone seen as enemies till 1.5 million were dead, almost one fourth of the nation.
I skimmed for news of the tribunal. Had anyone been brought to justice for these crimes against humanity?
One account shocked me, describing S-21, a prison in the capital infamous for torture, disturbing “medical experiments”, and more than 10,000 executions.
The tribunal testimony from Kaing Guek Eav or Comrade Duch, surprised me more. He openly admitted the atrocities he oversaw at S-21, taking blame for all he’d done and more. Perpetrators of genocide usually blame superiors, or lie or commit suicide like Hitler.
How could anyone take on shame like this without a hint of depression or mental breakdown? How did he?
My questions were unanswered until I left the capital for Battambang, Cambodia. There I met Pastor Timothy (San Thy Matathy). His kind demeanor gave no hints that as a teenager, he was told to “fight for the Khmer Rouge or die.”
But in the terror of war, Timothy found faith and eventually began to teach the Bible to others afterward.
A stranger began frequenting Timothy’s Bible study, and he questioned him, “Can God’s grace forgive a man who’s murdered another man?”, the stranger asked.
Knowing all he’d been forgiven, Timothy assured him, “Yes, definitely.”
“What if he’s killed more than one man?” The man persisted.
“Yes, God can forgive this.”
Shocked, the stranger asked. “Can God forgive a man who’s killed thousands?”
“God can forgive this.”
Though unrecognized, the stranger was the man known as Comrade Duch the former head of S-21 prison.
He was spotted later by a journalist. [Nic Dunlop. https://www.nicdunlop.com ]
And he told him, “It’s God’s will that you’re here. I’ve done very bad things in my life. Now it’s my time to bear the consequences of my actions.”
Owning up to his guilt and the atrocities he oversaw. His honest remorse at the tribunal gave Cambodia greater hope for reconciliation of the nation’s grave past.
He passed away in 2020 with a respiratory infection.
Before that in one of the appeals, his daughter, Ky Sievkim, spoke of him. She said, “I want to tell the court that my father is a good man through Jesus.”
And as his history is written, I think we all can find hope” to escape shame and find forgiveness in Jesus.
Footage: Going Far Pictures, Lost Kites documentary team
Archival footage: VOA News, Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia,
Photos: Jeff Rogers, AP, NicDunlop.com, Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, picture-alliance/dpa/epa