Former Khmer Rouge Minister accuses Nuon Chea, Brother Number Two, in middle of court hearing.
The pre-Trial Chamber at the Khmer Rouge Court examined on Tuesday February 24th an appeal lodged by Ieng Thirith, the former Khmer Rouge Minister of Social Affairs, against the Order on the Extension of her provisional detention. Debates unexpectedly went off-topic when the wife of Ieng Sary, the former Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Khmer Rouge government who was also placed in provisional detention and was recently admitted to hospital again, concluded the hearing with a vibrant tirade in favour of her innocence. She seized that opportunity to shift the responsibility of mass murder committed between 1975 and 1979 onto Nuon Chea, often presented as the ideologist of the Khmer Rouge regime, and while she was on the subject, also had a go at Duch.
Ieng Thirith and S-21
The Belgian deputy co-Prosecutor Vincent De Wilde made Ieng Thirith seethe with rage. Indeed, he reminded the audience of the cardinal importance of Duch's incriminating testimony. Duch used to supervise and direct the S-21 prison. According to the latter, hundreds of members of the Ministry of Social Affairs, placed under the supervision of Ieng Thirith, were sent to the bleak interrogation centre, a fact said to be confirmed by the lists of people compiled at S-21. Besides, a testimony indicates that their confessions, extracted out of them through means of torture, were communicated to Ieng Thirith, which would mean that she cannot pretend she does not know what went on between those prison walls out of which just a handful of detainees came alive.
The deputy co-prosecutor then digressed on the personality of Ieng Thirith and said that during an in camera hearing before the pre-Trial Chamber in May 2008, she had received a warning from the judges for having disrupted debates and talked to the prosecution team and civil parties in an aggressive way. "She cannot stand being confronted with her past and showed her determination to pressure the prosecution and civil parties. This is an attitude that has always been hers!" This was enough to irritate Ieng Thirith, who stopped listening to the debates by removing the headphones which allowed her to follow the exchanges in Cambodian language.
"I know who killed!!"
Fulminating on the spot, she then took the floor and declared, in Khmer, that she had not had any relation whatsoever with Duch whom she only called by his real name, i.e. Kaing Guek Eav. "To her, asserting the contrary is "illegitimate". "I am certain that people have been killed and I know who killed!" She then reminded the audience that she had come back to Cambodia, once the Khmer Rouge were installed in power, with students who were "arrested and executed under the leadership of Nuon Chea", she denounced, adding that those students had then been "entrusted" to Duch.
"I come from a good family. I am very angry because I did all my best to serve the nation. Everything that happened is Nuon Chea's fault. Do not have me involved [in that story]! This is unfair! He is the one who did all that!" She reported that a truck which regularly turned up had picked up the students and that is when she understood it was not a delegation coming to get them but that they were being driven to their death. "Don't accuse me of being a murderer, otherwise you will be cursed to the seventh circle of hell"
Then, against all odds, International Judge Katinka Lahuis encouraged her to keep going, asked her to turn her microphone on. Ieng Thirith gladly resumed her diatribe, speaking this time in slightly chaotic English. "The reason why I am here is to tell the truth because I have been waiting for that for years and because I have been accused of crimes despite all that I have done... [...] I have never known Kaing Guek Eav and have never spoken to him..."
"I am no murderer"
Several times offended by the fact that she ended up on the prisoner's dock, she thought it would be a good thing to add, as if to stress her good faith, that in those times, she was the "only one" who circulated in Phnom Penh "riding an old bicycle" even though she was a Minister. "I cannot really show patience. I am being unfairly accused. I am sorry if I am being extreme but I am an educated person, I have never done anything wrong. I have never committed any murder! The true murderers, especially the one who killed the people, what's his name again?... The guy who killed the people and is in detention. I've forgotten his name. The one who killed and is in prison. Kaing Guek Eav! I have nothing to do with him! He and Nuon Chea, it's all the same! Nuon Chea gave his orders to Kaing Guek Eav, and the latter then sent him his reports. I am telling you the truth. I want justice to be done! [.] I repeat to you that I am not a murderer!" She then cited her respectable genealogy: a grandfather who used to be a school principal and her father, who was a teacher. "My family are well-educated and never killed but always tried to teach students in the best possible way." Ieng Thirith concluded with the sentence: "I do not know Kaing Guek Eav but I hate him!" after estimating that "if there are cruel people in Cambodia, they must be sued"...