Tuesday, June 30, 2009

At last, the chance to speak

Vann Nath peers through the bars of S-21
I still haven't got out to the Khmer Rouge Trials at Kambol though this week would've been a particularly interesting time to go as the witnesses giving evidence are survivors from S-21 like Vann Nath, Chum Mey and most likely one or two of the prison guards as well. Vann Nath gave his evidence yesterday, some 30 years after his incarceration at Tuol Sleng for exactly 1 year. He survived because of his skills as a painter and his paintings have become inextricably linked with Tuol Sleng, where they hang on the walls of the former torture center. I've met Vann Nath a few times, including a filming session on the upper floor of Building B at S-21 and whilst he was a total professional when giving the interview on camera (which he has done so many times over the years), off camera he was quiet and melancholic. Today it was Chum Mey's turn to tell his story to the Tribunal judges of the torture he suffered during his imprisonment. You can often see Chum Mey at S-21, telling his story to visitors and re-enacting his incarceration in one of the brick-walled cells, it's a part of his life that he cannot forget even if he wanted to, so for his sake, and for Vann Nath, I really hope that their giving evidence and the outcome of the trial will allow some of their demons to rest. It's time some of the burden to tell the world about S-21 was lifted from the shoulders of these two men. I expect one of the prison guards, Him Houy, regarded as too lowly to be up for prosecution, to give his evidence later this week too.
A couple of disappointing briefs from the KR Tribunal: 15 people have been removed from the list of testimony witnesses to save time, the judges have announced and these include journalist Nic Dunlop, the man who discovered Comrade Duch, the man currently in the dock, living under an assumed name ten years ago. The judges also dismissed possible questions to Vann Nath on film footage of Tuol Sleng shot by the Vietnamese soon after they entered the city in 1979 - the judges ruled it was unclear whether the footage was genuine or propaganda produced by Hanoi, as defence lawyers have claimed.
Vann Nath looking at a self-portrait painting of himself that hangs at S-21
A quiet moment for Vann Nath during film shooting at S-21 in March 2008

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I saw this man yesterday in the lawsuit of Duch on Apsara-TV ( with french translation ).

His capacity of the forgiveness is incredible.


June 30, 2009 9:02 PM  
Anonymous John D Roberts said...


Following your tweet question, what to tweet more about: more coverage like this and more links to it from twitter.

Keep up the good work.

July 1, 2009 5:25 PM  
Blogger Andy Brouwer said...

A third survivor, Bou Meng, who was also saved because of his painting skills, was in the witness box yesterday. He asked Duch, the former head of S-21 and on trial, what happened to his wife, who arrived at Tuol Sleng with him but was later killed. Duch shifted the focus onto his subordinates (he's been doing this regularly throughout the trial, saying he was just part of a big machine, a cog who followed orders to the letter, and that all the killing was done by his staff albeit under his direction) and said that Choeung Ek was her likely resting place.

A book about Bou Meng's life has been put together by DC-Cam but not yet published. I think they are waiting for the trial to end before doing so, or at least sometime in the near future. There is already a book about the life of Vann Nath, the 1st survivor to give evidence, that is available to buy on Amazon, etc.


July 2, 2009 10:23 AM  

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