Sister-in-law of Pol Pot 'unfit for trial'
A judge in the United Nations-backed trial of Khmer Rouge leaders in Cambodia announced in Queenstown today that the sister-in-law of Pol Pot was unfit for trial and on the eve of being released.
Ieng Thirith, 80, was the only woman indicted in the second stage of the trial against the abuses of the regime, which ruled from 1975 to early 1979.
Dame Silvia Cartwright, speaking at the International Criminal Law Congress in Queenstown, sits as a trial judge in the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia.
''Bear in mind that that the trial is only partially completed and that therefore I have not come to any determination as to the accuracy of the allegations or, of course, of the part played by any of the accused,'' she told delegates.
Thirith was the Democratic Kampuchea regime's alleged minister of social affairs and went on trial during the second phase of proceedings in June last year charged with crimes against humanity, genocide and torture.
Dame Silvia said the three remaining men on trial - Khieu Samphan, Nuon Chea and Thirith's husband Ieng Sary - were charged as members of an alleged joint criminal enterprise.
''A fourth accused, Ieng Thirith...has been severed from the trial given that there are grounds to conclude that she is cognitively unfit to stand trial.
''We have held two hearings involving a cross-section of expert geriatric and psychiatric testimony and are about to issue our second decision confirming her unfitness to stand trial and ordering her release.''
She told delegates they were the first to know about the tribunal's decision and that Thirith was probably suffering from Alzheimer's.
In a wide-ranging speech, she said presiding at an international criminal trial was imperfect and at best established a tested chronicle of at least part of a conflict, allowing some victims to express suffering.
She said promoting peace and reconciliation was beyond a criminal trial's powers and ensuring senior regime leaders did not enjoy impunity was often cited as a reason for convening such trials.
She had doubts this objective was achieved but a trial may demonstrate to those who suffered that prosecution may follow with some form of justice and the world had listened, however imperfectly, to victims.
''In Cambodia, the trials being conducted before the ECCC will cover only a fraction of the senior Democratic Kampuchean leaders or those most responsible for the carnage that occurred during the regime.
''Others will never be brought to trial.''
Thirith was ordered released by the trial chamber on November 17 last year as she was found unfit to stand trial but the order for release was overturned by a Supreme Court chamber.
The Supreme Court chamber ordered a new assessment of her fitness to stand trial.
Three experts were appointed by the court to examine Thirith's fitness for trial last month including assessing whether medical treatment for six months had any effect and whether the treatment was successful in reversing progressive dementia.
Those experts were Dr John Campbell, of New Zealand, Dr. Seena Fazel, of the UK, and Dr. Huot Lina, of Cambodia, who previously examined the accused last year.
After the first stage of the trial Kaing Guek Eav, also known as Duch, was initially sentenced to 35 years' jail then served with a 19-year sentence for his role as commandant of the Tuol Sleng 'S21' prison and torture centre in Phnom Penh.
Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge regime is believed to be responsible for at least 1.7 million deaths between 1975 and 1979 through forced labour, torture, starvation and disease.
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