Tuesday 06 September 2011
Vann Nath, who died on 5 September aged 66, was an artist who was among only seven people to survive Cambodia's most notorious prison of the Khmer Rouge regime in the 1970s and who later depicted the facility's horrific torture.
Vann Nath, whose death leaves only two surviving inmates of the notorious Tuol Sleng prison, was the first of the survivors to testify before a UN-backed tribunal trying members of the Khmer Rouge regime on war crimes charges.
Born in 1946, Vann Nath trained as an artist, but was later forced to work at a co-operative farm after the Khmer Rouge seized power in April 1975. He was accused of being an enemy of the regime in 1978 and imprisoned at Tuol Sleng, also known as S-21, and kept there until January 1979, when the regime fled ahead of invading Vietnamese troops, who found only seven inmates alive at the prison.
Between April 1975 and late 1978 up to 16,000 people were tortured at the former school before being taken to the "killing fields" outside the capital and executed, most often with a blow to the back of their neck. Vann Nath was spared because he was ordered to paint and sculpt portraits of the late Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot. He would later paint images of torture such as waterboarding at Tuol Sleng and write a memoir of his year spent there. The regime's policies left about 1.7 million people dead through overwork, disease, malnutrition and execution.
In June 2009, Vann Nath testified before Cambodia's war crimes tribunal against Kaing Guek Eav, better known as Duch, who was in charge of S-21 from 1975-78. Duch, now 68, was sentenced to 35 years in prison in July last year.
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