Tribunal Rules Ailing Khmer Rouge Defendant to Remain in Custody

Posted December 13th, 2011 at 1:35 pm (UTC-5)
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Cambodia's United Nations-backed war crimes tribunal has ruled that a Khmer Rouge defendant earlier ruled unfit to stand trial should remain in detention to see if her mental condition improves.

The court's highest appeal body on Tuesday reversed last month's decision by junior judges to unconditionally release 79-year-old defendant Ieng Thirith, who faces an array of charges in the deaths of some 1.7 million Cambodians during Khmer Rouge rule of the 1970s. The lower panel had ruled that the former social affairs minister for the radical communist movement was incapacitated by dementia.

In its latest ruling, the chamber's highest appeal body said Ieng Thirith, the sister-in-law of the late regime leader Pol Pot, should be hospitalized for at least six more months before her mental condition is reassessed.

The tribunal is seeking justice for the legions of victims who died of starvation, execution or lack of medical care during the Khmer Rouge's 1975-1979 reign. Ieng Thirith and her three co-defendants are the most senior survivors of the regime's leadership. All defendants deny the charges. Pol Pot died in 1998.

In testimony last week, former number two Khmer Rouge leader Nuon Chea denied responsibility for the genocide, insisting that he and his comrades were not “bad people.”

The 85-year-old defendant insisted that no Cambodian was responsible for atrocities. He sought to shift the blame to Vietnam, which invaded Cambodia in 1978 and toppled the Khmer Rouge regime a year later.

Nominal Khmer Rouge head of state Khieu Samphan is also expected to testify in the coming days. In opening remarks last month, he identified himself as a Cambodian patriot who was unaware of the mass killings at the time.