Our colleague Lakshmi Bai [IntLawGrrl Jaya Ramji-Nogales] recently blogged on the long-awaited establishment of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC). Reflecting Cambodia’s colonial past, the ECCC is the first hybrid criminal tribunal to adopt the French civil law model of prosecution. Accordingly, the prosecutors are responsible for compiling dossiers on individuals worthy of prosecution. These are then examined by investigating judges, who call witnesses, assess credibility, and review documents. The investigating judges then make recommendations about who should be indicted and for what crimes. In the hybridity of the ECCC, international and Khmer professionals share each key post.
The ECCC co-prosecutors recently submitted dossiers for five individuals to the court’s co-investigating judges, who will decide whom to indict. Although this list is supposed to be confidential, one of the five names is reputed to be that of Ieng (Khieu) Thirith (above), the wife of Ieng Sary—Brother Number 3 (after Pol Pot and Noun Chea). The Cambodian press has speculated that the other proposed indictees are Ieng Sary himself, the former Foreign Minister; Nuon Chea, Pol Pot’s deputy; and Khieu Samphan, former Chief of State. Kang Kech Eav (“Duch”), head of the infamous Tuol Sleng prison (a.k.a. S-21) in Phnom Penh, has already been indicted for crimes against humanity.
Thirith was educated at the Sorbonne and became the first Khmer to graduate with a degree in English literature (she majored in Shakespeare Studies). Upon returning to Phnom Penh, she established an English-language school and taught at a government lycée. Her sister, Khieu Ponnary, was Pol Pot’s first wife. Once the Khmer Rouge took power in April 1975, she was appointed Minister of Social Affairs & Education, in charge of culture and social welfare. She was also jointly responsible for Foreign Affairs with her husband, Ieng Sary, who was appointed Foreign Minister. If indicted, Thirith would be—by my count—the third woman to be prosecuted for international crimes before a modern international tribunal. Her predecessors are Biljana Plavšić and Pauline Nyiramasuhuko.
Plavšić (right) was a fulltime academic at the University of Sarajevo until 1990, when she became active in politics by joining the Serbian Democratic Party. She was later elected as a Serbian Representative to the Presidency of the Socialist Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina and as a member of the Presidencies of Republika Srpska, the self-proclaimed Serbian enclave within Bosnia-Herzegovina. She was reputedly a close associate of Radovan Karadžić and Momcilo Krajisnik. The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) indicted her for genocide, complicity in genocide, and the crimes against humanity of persecution, extermination, killing, deportation, and inhumane acts for her role in planning, instigating, ordering, and aiding and abetting, and jointly executing the ethnic cleansing of the Bosnian Muslim, Bosnian Croat and other non-Serb populations of 37 municipalities in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Plavšić surrendered voluntarily to the ICTY in January 2001 and pled not guilty. Almost a year later, she pled guilty to Count 3 of the indictment—persecution. Pursuant to the plea agreement, the Prosecution dismissed the remaining counts of the Indictment. The ICTY sentenced her to 11 years’ imprisonment, which she is serving in a women’s prison in Sweden. The Swedish government recently rejected her appeal for pardon, which was based on her advanced age (she is in her late 70s) and ailing health.
Nyiramasuhuko (left), a lawyer by training, was Minister for the Family and for the Advancement of Woman during the genocide in Rwanda and a leader in the Hutu-dominated National Republican Movement for Democracy (MRND) party. The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) indicted her for her participation in organizing massacres of Tutsis during the genocide. In particular, she is accused of drawing up lists of individuals to be eliminated and incited others to exterminate Tutsis. She was also named as the minister responsible for “pacification” for the Butare prefecture. There, she allegedly tricked Tutsis into coming to a Red Cross camp set up in the local stadium, where Interahamwe ambushed the refugees. She also allegedly ordered the rape and murder of 70 Tutsi women and girls who had been abducted by Interahamwe. Once the Tutsi-led Rwandan Patriotic Front advanced into Kigali, she hid in a refugee camp and then made her way to Kenya, where she was arrested after being in hiding for three years. The ICTR indicted her for conspiracy to commit genocide, genocide, public and direct incitement to commit genocide, and various crimes against humanity, including rape. She is the first woman to be indicted for rape under international law. Her trial continues.
If Thirith joins this august group, she has a lot to answer for. The Khmer Rouge destroyed many of the country’s religious monuments and educational institutions in an effort to create a radically egalitarian and agrarian state. Individuals who were not assassinated or worked to death died by the thousands of starvation, malnutrition, and disease. For now, Thirith reportedly resides in the couple’s home in Pailin, near the Thai border. The couple also has a lovely villa in downtown Phnom Penh, in the neighborhood of the Documentation Center of Cambodia, which has spent over a decade documenting the crimes of the Khmer Rouge.