The U.N.-backed genocide tribunal in Cambodia on Thursday ordered the release of 80-year-old former Khmer Rouge leader Ieng Thirith from detention, noting that she is unfit to stand trial due to her steadily deteriorating mental condition.
"On the basis of the court-appointed medical experts' report and testimony, the Trial Chamber has today reaffirmed its prior finding that the accused Ieng Thirith suffers from a progressive, degenerative illness [probably Alzheimer's disease] and that she remains unfit to stand trial," the court said in a statement.
Nevertheless, the Court stressed that the order to release her "is not a finding on the guilt or innocence of the accused, nor does it have the effect of withdrawing the charges against the accused," and added: "As there is no prospect that the accused can be tried in the foreseeable future, the Trial Chamber has confirmed the severance of the charges" against her.
According to court officials, Thirith, whose sister was married to Khmer Rouge supremo Pol Pot, will be released from detention within 24 hours if prosecutors do not prefer an appeal. Incidentally, four expert psychiatrists who examined Thirith in September 2011 had diagnosed her with clinical dementia, most likely Alzheimer's, which would hinder her participation in court hearings.
In addition, an expert geriatrician concluded that it would be difficult for her to understand the nature of the charges against her or to follow the proceedings, to understand witness statements from events taking place 35 years ago, to instruct her counsel, or to testify in her own defense.
Thirith, former Social Affairs Minister for the Democratic Kampuchea, was on trial for genocide and other crimes against humanity along with her husband and former Foreign Minister Ieng Sary, former so-called Brother Number Two NuonChea, and former head of State Khieu Samphan, all leaders of the Khmer Rouge regime during the late 1970s.
The three remaining defendants, aged 78 to 85, remain on trial on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity in connection with the brutal killings of nearly two million Cambodians during the regime's rule in the South east Asian nation.
They have been under detention since their arrest in 2007. They are unlikely to live until the end of their trial, which is expected to take years. Nonetheless, the prosecution is seeking the maximum penalty of life in prison for the defendants.
Their trial is the second of the U.N.-backed Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), with the first being that of Kaing Khev Iev, a former Khmer Rouge jailer. Iev, alias Duch, was accused of overseeing the deaths of some 15,000 people at Tuol Sleng torture prison in the late 1970s. In July 2010, the Tribunal found Duch guilty of committing crimes against humanity, and sentenced him to 35 years in prison.
It is believed that the Khmer Rouge regime executed over two million fellow-Cambodians in its efforts to forcefully create a peasant society based on Maoist principles before the Vietnamese Army ousted it in 1979. The group's top leader, "Brother Number One" Pol Pot, died in 1998. The infamous Khmer Rouge regime had taken over the country in 1975 after ousting a U.S.-backed government shortly after the American pullout from neighboring Vietnam.
The ECCC was established in 2006 under a 2003 agreement signed by the U.N. and the Cambodian government to prosecute members of the Khmer Rouge regime. The Cambodian government has already indicated that the former Khmer Rouge leaders currently facing trial would be the last to be prosecuted, insisting that the move is required to preserve peace and political stability in the country.
by RTT Staff Writer
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