Despite Order, Thirith Wants Out of Hearing

Despite a court order that she appear before trial judges this morning, crimes against humanity suspect Ieng Thirith asked Friday to be excused from the proceedings.

Along with head of state Khieu Samphan, 79, and deputy party chairman Nuon Chea, 84, Khmer Rouge Minister of Social Action Ieng Thirith, 78, was ordered Friday to be present for oral arguments this morning. The hearing was expected to mark the first-ever joint court appearance by the accused.

Lawyers for the three, who along with Foreign Minister Ieng Sary, 85, were indicted in September for their alleged roles in a political conspiracy resulting in up to 2.2 million deaths, have called on the court to release the accused, saying they have been detained longer than the law allows.

In a one-sentence letter signed Friday in her hand, Ieng Thirith said she waived her “right to at­tend” this morning’s proceedings.

Defense lawyers for Ieng Thirith and Khieu Samphan yesterday declined to comment, and it was unclear if the accused would nevertheless appear in light of Ieng Thirith’s summons. A lawyer for Nuon Chea said his client was likely to attend.

Defense lawyers earlier this month seized on the fact that, despite the apparent requirements of the tribunal’s procedural rules, the court’s four accused have not appeared before trial judges more than four months after their indictments.

Pretrial rulings on defense challenges to the indictments were issued in advance of a deadline this month, but the rulings’ decisions were issued afterward, prompting defense lawyers to say the rulings were invalid.

As a result, trial judges this morning will hear arguments that the accused should be allowed out of detention, pending trial. “[T]he Pre-Trial Chamber has failed to issue its decision on time, and further, even though the Trial Chamber deems itself seized of the Indictment, the trial has not yet started,” Ieng Thirith’s lawyers wrote.

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