PHNOM PENH - Ieng Thirith, the former social affairs minister for the Khmer Rouge who has been jailed since 2007, has been found unfit to stand trial at the UN-backed tribunal and is scheduled to be released Friday morning.
Tribunal prosecutors have until tomorrow to appeal Thursday’s decision by the Trial Chamber of the court, which found that Ieng Thirith, who is 80, is unable to stand trial due to mental degradation, likely due to Alzheimer’s disease.
The Trial Chamber ruled she was not likely to be fit for trial in the foreseeable future, but it did not drop charges of atrocity crimes against her. She will not be allowed to leave the country and must not interfere with the work of the court. She must not contact witnesses or others involved in her case or the case of her husband, former foreign minister Ieng Sary.
Ieng Thirith was arrested and charged alongside Ieng Sary in November 2007. Ieng Sarry is currently on trial alongside two other regime leaders—Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan—for crimes committed by the Khmer Rouge under their leadership.
International prosecutor Andrew Cayley said late Thursday he was considering whether to appeal the decision to release Ieng Thirith.
Stephen Rapp, the US ambassador at large for war crimes, who is on a short visit to Cambodia, told reporters Thursday the decision of the court showed a “fundamental principle” of legal systems.
“Obviously it’s important for a person to be tried that they be competent and able to assist in their defense,” he said.
Clair Duffy, a court monitor for the Open Society Justice Initiative, said the decision was a positive step for the court. “Because it sends a message in Cambodia that if you are mentally not capable of maintaining a fair defense that you cannot be tried, because that’s entirely unfair,” she said.
But at least some disappointed survivors of the Khmer Rouge said they thought she had fooled the court.
“She pretended,” said Chum Mey, one of only a handful of people to survive imprisonment at the Khmer Rouge’s Tuol Sleng torture center. He called the court’s decision “unreasonable and unfair.” “Others will request the same release,” he said.