Democratic Kampuchea’s power couple Ieng Sary and Ieng Thirith have the right to be together while in detention at the Khmer Rouge tribunal, the court ruled Wednesday.
Charged with crimes against humanity, the married couple’s separation since Nov 19 by the court’s co-investigating judges was not properly justified and affected their right to be treated with humanity, the five-judge Pre-Trial Chamber said in a unanimous ruling, a copy of which was obtained Thursday.
“The Charged Persons Ieng Sary and Ieng Thirith have been married for 57 years. The alleged crimes were committed 30 years ago so the Charged Persons have had all that time to discuss any matter related to such allegations,” the judges found.
“In these circumstances, it is not clear to the Pre-Trial Chamber how limiting contact between the two Charged Persons protects the interest of the investigation,” the six-page decision states.
In an appeal that was not opposed by the prosecution, defense lawyers Ang Udom and Michael Karnavas asked the Chamber to allow the conjugal visits after co-investigating judges said in a Jan 22 letter that they did not intend to do so.
The co-investigating judges in March agreed to allow visits once a week between the former Khmer Rouge foreign minister and his wife, the regime’s former minister of social action, however the Pre-Trial Chamber found that this was not enough to assure respect for the couple’s rights.
The couple should be allowed to meet according to rules in place at the tribunal’s detention center, which is run by the Interior Ministry, the ruling said.
It was unclear Thursday exactly how the ruling would affect the circumstances under which Ieng Sary, 82, and Ieng Thirith, 76, could meet. Special draft rules governing detention at the tribunal are not yet in place.
Heng Hak, director-general of prisons at the Interior Ministry, said Thursday that under the co-investigating judge’s March decision the couple had been allowed weekly meetings of one to two hours.
Prison regulations themselves do not address the question of meetings between prisoners, he said.
“Prison rules say families can meet together,” he said. “For meetings between a prisoner and a prisoner, there is no rule.”
Kim Chuon, governor of the tribunal’s detention facility, said Thursday that the couple are not allowed to spend the night together.
“They can just meet and ask a few words, whether each other is sick or not,” he said.
In a March pleading submitted in support of their appeal, Ang Udom and Karnavas argued their client had had numerous rights violated, including “the right to a family life.”
Youk Chhang, director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia, said Thursday that the Ieng family were now benefiting from what their regime had tried to eradicate. Respecting the couple’s rights could be a way of showing the regime’s former members the value of what the regime had taken away, he said.
“They made the Angkar become your family, your parents,” Youk Chhang said of the regime. “The family was abolished, the way of life that had been for thousands of years. Family was everything to the Cambodian people.”