A former minister of the Khmer Rouge regime lost her appeal Wednesday for release from pretrial detention by Cambodia’s genocide tribunal where she is being held on charges of crimes against humanity.
In their unanimous ruling, judges of the UN-assisted tribunal’s pretrial chamber upheld the detention of 76-year-old Ieng Thirith, who served as the social affairs minister during the rule of the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s.
The “detention remains a necessary measure,” said Prak Kimsan, the chair of the five-judge panel, detailing the dismissal of her appeal. He said investigating judges properly exercised their discretion in ordering Ieng Thirith detained in November.
Prak Kimsan said there are “well-founded reasons to believe that crimes being investigated against the charged person were committed as part of a systematic attack.”
The detention is to prevent Ieng Thirith from influencing potential witnesses and victims or trying to escape, he said.
The tribunal is seeking justice for atrocities committed by the ultra-communist Khmer Rouge when it ruled Cambodia from 1975-79, with some 1.7 million people dying from starvation, disease, overwork and execution.
Ieng Thirith is the wife of Ieng Sary, the Khmer Rouge foreign minister who is also being detained on charges of crimes against humanity and war crimes. They are among five suspects facing trial for their alleged involvement in atrocities.
Prosecutor Robert Petit said his team has long insisted on keeping suspects in detention until trial because “we’re talking about the gravest of crimes.”
Ieng Thirith, who took her husband’s surname after marriage, has rejected all allegations against her as “100% false” and said she always worked for the benefit of the people.
She is also the sister-in-law of Khmer Rouge supreme leader Pol Pot, who died in 1998. Pol Pot married Ieng Thirith’s sister, Khieu Ponnary, who died in 2003.
During a hearing in May, Ieng Thirith’s defense lawyers argued for her release, saying she suffers from chronic mental and physical illnesses.
“She will not abscond because she is frail and chronically ill,” Phat Pouv Seang, Ieng Thirith’s Cambodian lawyer, said, calling the ruling “unjust and biased.”
“She was upset with it. She asked the judges for permission to speak but they refused,” he said.
The tribunal plans to open the first trial in September for Kaing Guek Eav, alias Duch, who headed the Khmer Rouge’s notorious S-21 prison and torture centre in Phnom Penh.