Khmer Rouge 'first lady' dies without facing trial

Ieng Thirith (at centre) in court in 2008. She was charged by the war crimes court for crimes against humanity, but freed in 2012 after the court ruled she was unfit to stand trial due to progressive dementia.
Ieng Thirith (at centre) in court in 2008. She was charged by the war crimes court for crimes against humanity, but freed in 2012 after the court ruled she was unfit to stand trial due to progressive dementia.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

PHNOM PENH • The "first lady" of Cambodia's murderous former Khmer Rouge regime died yesterday, according to a United Nations- backed tribunal, without victims ever seeing her face trial on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity.

Ieng Thirith, a French-educated revolutionary who was 83 when she died, was one of the few women in the leadership of the communist movement behind the horrors of the Killing Fields era.

She was among just a handful of suspects charged by Cambodia's UN-backed war crimes court, but was freed in 2012 when the case against her was suspended after the court ruled she was unfit to stand trial due to progressive dementia.

Family ties helped her reach the upper echelons of power in a murderous totalitarian regime that tore children from parents and husbands from wives.

The sister-in-law of late Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot, she served as the regime's social affairs minister alongside her husband, former foreign minister Ieng Sary.

She had been hospitalised this year in Thailand with heart, bladder and lung problems. She passed away in a former Khmer Rouge stronghold on the Thai border where many regime leaders settled after they were ousted by the Vietnamese.

"Her body will be cremated on Monday evening," her son Ieng Vuth said, adding that his mother had died from cardiac arrest.

Though the charges against her were never dropped, the suspension of the case against Ieng Thirith - blamed for up to two million deaths - was a bitter blow to many who survived the regime.

"Now that Ieng Thirith has died, a little part of justice has also died with her," said Ms Chum Mey, a survivor of the Khmer Rouge's brutal Tuol Sleng.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 23, 2015, with the headline 'Khmer Rouge 'first lady' dies without facing trial'. Print Edition | Subscribe