Court Delays ‘First Lady’ Release

Cambodia’s war tribunal is considering conditions to the former Khmer Rouge official’s freedom.
2012-09-14
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Ieng Thirith (c) stands with assistants in ECCC in Phnom Penh, April 30, 2010.
AFP

A U.N.-backed war tribunal in Cambodia announced Friday that it will delay the release of a high-ranking official of the notorious Khmer Rouge regime pending an appeal by co-prosecutors, who want measures put in place to ensure she remains within the court’s jurisdiction.

Ieng Thirith, 80, is among four surviving members of the ultra-Maoist movement’s leadership currently on trial for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. Up to two million Cambodians died of disease, exhaustion, starvation, and execution during the regime’s rule from 1975-1979.

On Thursday, the Extraordinary Chambers of the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), as the tribunal is officially known, ruled that the former Khmer Rouge social affairs minister be released from detention after reaffirming its assessment that she is unfit to stand trial due to a degenerative illness.

Ieng Thirith was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease last year and had been excused from court proceedings while she received medical treatment in prison.

But ECCC Press Officer Neth Pheaktra said Friday that the tribunal will delay her release while it considers an appeal of the trial chamber’s decision to grant her “unconditional” freedom.

“This morning the co-prosecutors appealed the trial chamber’s decision in order to delay the release of the accused, Ieng Thirith,” he told RFA’s Khmer service.

“The co-prosecutors want to make sure that her release will have conditions in place.”

Proposed conditions

Neth Pheaktra went on to explain the conditions stipulated by the co-prosecutors, which included restrictions on residency, travel, and contact with participants in the ongoing trial of her co-defendants.

“The conditions require the accused to reside at a specified home address to be provided by her co-lawyers. She must make herself available for a weekly safety check by authorities or officials, to be designated by the trial chamber. She must surrender her passport and ID card,” Neth Pheaktra said.

“She can’t contact, directly or indirectly, the other co-accused, excluding her husband, accused Ieng Sary,” he said. Former Khmer Rouge foreign minister Ieng Sary is one of the other three members of the leadership on trial.

He said that the co-prosecutors had also requested that Ieng Thirith be restricted from contacting—directly or indirectly—any witness, expert, or victim who the trial chamber had proposed to hear testimony from, and that she refrain from “interfering in the administration of justice.”

Ieng Thirith would also be subject to medical examinations every six months by a medical practitioner appointed by the trial chamber.

ECCC statement

The ECCC released a statement Friday saying co-prosecutors “fully agree with the trial chamber that Ieng Thirith should be released from detention based on the findings of national and international experts that she is currently unfit to stand trial,” but said they took issue with her “unconditional” release.

“Whilst accepting the trial chamber’s findings relating to the accused’s cognitive impairment, the co-prosecutors also take note of the chamber's holding that there exists a possibility (albeit remote) of a change in the circumstances, and a resumption of the trial at a later point in time,” the statement said.

“Taking this into account, the co-prosecutors consider that the trial chamber has the legal authority to consider and apply limited, reasonably necessary and proportionate restrictions on Ieng Thirith's liberty.”

It said the purpose of such restrictions would be to ensure that Ieng Thirith does not flee the jurisdiction of the court and does not interfere with witnesses or other accused giving evidence at trial.

Reported by RFA’s Khmer service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.