Khmer Rouge 'First Lady' Ieng Thirith faces KRT
The Mekong Times
Thursday, May 22, 2008
Ieng Thirith, the former Khmer Rouge (KR) Minister of Social Affairs and single most powerful woman in Cambodia during the KR's
murderous regime, yesterday appealed against her provisional detention at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC).
Withered and stern, the bespectacled wife of fellow ECCC detainee, former KR Foreign Minister Ieng Sary, calmly took the stand to confirm her name, age and place of birth. She appeared at a loss when asked how many children she had.
But there were none of the hysterics hyped as a possibility by her Cambodian Co-Defense Lawyer Phat Pouv Seang prior to the hearing - he had claimed that her alleged mental deterioration could cause her to vacantly cry or shout out at the court and disrupt proceedings.
Ieng Thirith, the younger sister of "Brother Number One" Pol Pot's wife Khieu Ponnary, is blamed by historians for kick-starting the regime's merciless
inner purges after blaming the horrific living conditions in the country's northwest region to "foreign agents infiltrating our ranks."
But her English Co-Defense Lawyer Diane Ellis QC, wearing the short bench wig traditionally seen in British courts, yesterday said that the co-investigating judges had made fatal flaws in their decision to place a yearlong Provisional Detention Order (PDO) on the 76-year-old in November 2007. Ieng Thirith presents a flight risk, her release would endanger both her personal safety and public order, and she could destroy evidence and pressure potential witnesses, judges argued in their pre-trial examination report.
Ellis argued that her client's case was "very different and separate" to that of the other four accused, and that there was no factual basis for her detention. "There is also no direct witness evidence to form well-founded reasoning that she is guilty," said Ellis.
Ellis said Ieng Thirith has been a
resident of Cambodia all her life; she did not leave the country despite possibly being aware of her looming arrest in November 2007. She also claimed that Ieng Thirith is not healthy enough to flee and lacks the means to do so.
"She does not own a single residence, not - as suggested - in Cuba or even the Phnom Penh villa she was living in when arrested," the lawyer said, claiming that the impoverished Ieng Thirith is reliant on her family and had offered to surrender her valid passport.
Surprisingly the defense made little specific mention of the mental condition that Phat Pouv Seang had previously declared would prove pivotal.
"She has suffered from chronic ill health for many years and is continuously taking medication ... her infirmity makes it difficult to come to a serious conclusion that she would attempt to flee," added Ellis.
There would be no threat of revenge attacks by KR victims if Ieng Thirith was released, said Ellis, and her personal security is put at greater threat by her continued detention.
But Belgian Co-Prosecutor Vincent de Wilde d'Estmael responded by demanding explanations "for the radical, murderous attempt at utopia - explanations for the paranoia which caused the death of millions."
Ieng Thirith was a member of the KR elite for decades, and as such believed she had permanent immunity from the
world's laws, he argued. She influenced, encouraged and fully took part in crimes that she has never disowned, he said. "Crimes of a nature which [if unpunished] put in peril the very foundations and existence of mankind."
He added that Ieng Thirith enjoys "substantial prestige and popularity in the former KR bastion of Pailin," proving she has the means and influence to put pressure on the few number of key senior witnesses who left which can testify about her role at the KR Ministry of Social Affairs.
Her son is the vice-governor of the city and she is related to the governor,
both of whom have been openly hostile to the ECCC, said de Wilde d'Estmael, adding that this is particularly relevant since she has now seen her case file, which includes details of potential witnesses against her.
He cited two examples as evidence of the likelihood of her pressuring witnesses: Firstly, her attack on Documentary Center of Cambodia Director Youk Chhang in an newspaper article in 1997, in which she called his description of KR atrocities as "lies aimed at dividing Cambodia," from a "mean and ruthless [man]."
Secondly, she "violently ordered the silencing" of a senior KR cadre during a 2003 meeting of Ieng Sary's political organization the Democratic National United Movement when the former cadre suggested that the Iengs could be brought to trial one day.
He added that far from being an indigent, the Ieng family was "not penniless" and had traveled extensively. "North Korea, Africa, Cuba - among countries where it is perceivable that she could be offered a safe-haven."
Ieng Thirith did not leave Cambodia before July 2007 because she was confident of her long-lasting impunity, he said. "It is highly disturbing then, if she was aware of her imminent arrest, that she applied for and received a visa for Thailand on Nov 8," a mere six days before her arrest, argued de Wilde d'Estmael.
"Was this a planned attempt to abscond?" he asked.
De Wilde d'Estmael said the argument that Ieng Thirith was incapable physically or mentally to face trial was "feeble indeed," and asked why - if this was the case - a counter-examination was not requested.
If Phat Pouv Seang had read the 200 pages of medical evidence, which he suggested in a newspaper interview proved Ieng Thirith was mentally ill,
he would have realized that the argument was utterly groundless, said de Wilde d'Estmael.
In response to the argument that it had not been proved that public order would be disrupted by her release, he said that dangerous events need to be predicted before they occur.
"There is no need to act as the sorcer
er's apprentice in an environment that remains restive," he told the court.
In conclusion, the lawyer argued that the tribunal's attempt to end the culture of impunity in Cambodia had gone, "past the point of return," and that Ieng Thirith's release at this point would send "contradictory signals" to the Cambodian public.
"This would be deeply perplexing
and cause feelings of betrayal and disgust that could cause a downward spiral into violent unrest," he said.
Ieng Thirith waived her right to a final statement as she felt unwell with rising blood pressure. "I have high-blood pres¬sure. When I get angry it rises rapidly. Please seek justice for me.... I was not [involved] as accused," she said. The decision on her appeal is to be announced by the ECCC in the coming days, said ECCC Public Affairs Officer Helen Jarvis.
Extracted From the Mekong Times
Issue No. 73
Thursday, May 22, 2008