Frail but undaunted, former Khmer Rouge Foreign Minister Ieng Sary is in Phnom Penh and ready to face the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, family members said this week.
However, a royal pardon granted in 1996 should shield him from prosecution, they said.
With two tribunal suspects in custody following the July 31 charging of Kaing Guek Eav, alias Duch, and the Sept 19 arrest of “Brother Number Two” Nuon Chea, attention now falls to which of the regime’s former leaders will be arrested next.
In forwarding five cases for judicial investigation in July, prosecutors at the Extraordinary Chambers did not publicly name the suspects they had identified.
However, speculation has focused primarily on Ieng Sary, his wife, former Khmer Rouge Minister of Social Action Ieng Thirith, as well as former Khmer Rouge head of state Khieu Samphan.
A close family member, who requested that their name not be published, said Tuesday that Ieng Sary was paying close attention to the unfolding legal process at the tribunal.
“My father saw on television that Nuon Chea was brought to court. He is not afraid of this. He is ready to go to court to be a witness,” the family member said.
The family member added that a royal pardon has already absolved Ieng Sary of his involvement in Democratic Kampuchea.
At the hastily-convened People’s Revolutionary Tribunal in August of 1979, Ieng Sary and Pol Pot were both convicted in absentia of genocide and sentenced to death.
A royal pardon in 1996 quashed Ieng Sary’s conviction and offered him amnesty from prosecution under the 1994 law outlawing “the Democratic Kampuchea group.”
Ieng Sary was granted the pardon for defecting to the government, bringing a large force of rebel troops with him from his former stronghold in Pailin.
“I wonder why they want to try my father because he was pardoned by the King in 1996 for the mass defection of Khmer Rouge soldiers into the government,” the relative said.
“What can it mean for this amnesty by the King?” the relative asked.
Ieng Sary’s son, Deputy Pailin Governor Ieng Vuth, declined Wednesday to comment on his father’s likely date in court.
And a guard at the Ieng Sary’s Tonle Bassac commune villa in Chamkar Mon district said Wednesday evening that the couple were not at home.
According to Pannasastra University law professor Stan Starygin, the ECCC may decline to take any notice of the 1996 pardon of Ieng Sary as the 1979 tribunal, which convicted him, itself was not legitimate under international law.
At the 1979 People’s Revolutionary Tribunal, which was held at Phnom Penh’s Chaktomuk Conference Hall and is largely considered a show trial, US defense lawyer Hope Stevens began his opening remarks by denouncing his own clients, Pol Pot and Ieng Sary.
“I have not come from halfway around the world to give approval to a monstrous crime nor to ask for mercy for the criminals,” he said. “No! A thousand times no!”
Ieng Sary’s daughter Ieng Sophy said Tuesday that her father—now 77—is ailing.
“He is old and sick. He has to be careful in talking and eating. As he talks more, he will get tired,” she said.
Ieng Sary will not flee the court’s jurisdiction and has few places to go, she added.
“Who will give him a visa?” she asked. “I feel my father is too old.”
Historians have said Ieng Sary bore responsibility for the arrests of foreign ministry officials under the regime who were later executed.
But Ieng Sophy said that she believed her father to be an innocent man. “He did not order any people to be killed. He was not involved in it,” she said.
“Some people say the Khmer Rouge leaders enjoyed the killing. It isn’t true,” she added.
(Additional reporting by Douglas Gillison and Pin Sisovann)