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Tribunal Finds Ieng Thirith Unfit for Upcoming Trial

Ieng Thirith, center, former Khmer Rouge social affairs minister, appears in court room of the U.N.-backed tribunal during a hearing in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. (File Photo)

Ieng Thirith, the former social affairs minister of the Khmer Rouge, is currently unfit to stand trial and should be released from the detention facility where she has been held since 2007, the court’s Trial Chamber said Thursday.

The Trial Chamber ordered that she be separated from the indictments in Case 002, which will put three other leaders on trial for atrocity crimes next week.

The chamber judges were split on whether she should be released from detention or moved to a hospital under detention, and, citing the legal principle of the presumption of innocence, ordered her “unconditional” release.

Prosecutors can appeal the decision for her release, but Cambodian prosecutor Chea Leang said Thursday she would first consider the decision further.

A tribunal spokesman said that if the decision to release Ieng Thirith were appealed, a final decision would have to be made within the next 17 days. The prosecution also retains the option to re-assess her mental condition.

“I think everyone has been expecting this to happen,” said Claire Duffy, a court monitor for the Open Society Justice Initiative. She called the decision “a very good sign in terms of the court’s compliance with international fair-trial standards.”

Thursday’s order comes just days ahead of the first substantial hearing for Case 002, which will put leaders Nuon Chea, Khieu Samphan and Ieng Sary on trial for atrocity crimes that include genocide. That hearing will open Nov. 21