Prosecutors at Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge tribunal on Friday appealed against a decision to free the regime’s former “First Lady” after she was deemed unfit for trial.
The ruling on the seventy-nine-year-old’s fitness came just days before the tribunal was to hear opening statements in her long-awaited trial.
The former social affairs minister is facing charges of war crimes, genocide, and crimes against humanity over the deaths of two million people during the movement’s reign.
Ieng Thirith will remain locked up while the Supreme Court ponders the appeal. She has been held along with her husband and former foreign affairs minister Ieng Sary and two other top regime leaders.
Questions have long been raised over the mental state of the regime’s “First Lady”, who famously lost her cool during a 2009 court appearance, telling the prosecutor he would be “cursed to the seventh circle of hell”.
Trial chamber judges said in a statement Thursday that the “continued detention of an accused who lacks capacity to understand proceedings against her… would not serve the interests of justice.”
While they agreed about her mental health affliction, they were split about what to do with Ieng Thirith after staying the proceedings against her. Cambodian judges suggested she should be hospitalised for six months before re-assessing her fitness, while international judges said there was no legal basis to keep her locked up. In the absence of an agreement, international law prevailed.
In their appeal document, prosecutors said judges had failed to exhaust all possible options to improve the suspect’s condition.
Freeing Ieng Thirith would likely cause a stir in Cambodia, where many victims are still haunted by the horrors of the regime.
Led by Pol Pot, who died in 1998, the Khmer Rouge wiped out a quarter of the population through starvation, overwork, and execution trying to create an agrarian utopia.
As social affairs minister, Ieng Thirith, who was Pol Pot’s sister-in-law, is believed to have been involved in some of the communist movement’s most drastic policies.
In the court’s first trial, prison chief Kaing Guek Eav was sentenced to thirty years in jail for overseeing the deaths of 15,000 people. His case is under appeal.
Amid fears that not all the elderly accused in the long-awaited second trial will live to see a verdict, the court last month divided their complex case into a series of smaller trials to speed up proceedings.