Ieng Thirith

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Ieng Thirith
Ieng Thirith - Case 002 Initial Hearing.jpg
Minister of Social Affairs
In office
9 October 1975 7 January 1979
Prime Minister Pol Pot
Personal details
Khieu Thirith

10 March 1932
Battambang, Cambodia
Died22 August 2015(2015-08-22) (aged 83)
Pailin, Cambodia
Spouse(s) Ieng Sary
(m. 1951–2013; his death)

Ieng Thirith (née Khieu; [1] Khmer : អៀង ធីរិទ្ធ; [2] 10 March 1932 [3] – 22 August 2015) was an influential figure in the Khmer Rouge, although she was neither a member of the Khmer Rouge Standing Committee nor of the Central Committee. [4] Ieng Thirith was the wife of Ieng Sary, who was Minister of Foreign Affairs of Democratic Kampuchea's Khmer Rouge regime. She served as Minister of Social Affairs from October 1975 until the fall of the Khmer Rouge in 1979. [5] [6]

Khmer or Cambodian is the language of the Khmer people and the official language of Cambodia. With approximately 16 million speakers, it is the second most widely spoken Austroasiatic language. Khmer has been influenced considerably by Sanskrit and Pali, especially in the royal and religious registers, through Hinduism and Buddhism. The more colloquial registers have influenced, and have been influenced by, Thai, Lao, Vietnamese, and Cham, all of which, due to geographical proximity and long-term cultural contact, form a sprachbund in peninsular Southeast Asia. It is also the earliest recorded and earliest written language of the Mon–Khmer family, predating Mon and by a significant margin Vietnamese, due to Old Khmer being the language of the historical empires of Chenla, Angkor and, presumably, their earlier predecessor state, Funan.

Khmer Rouge followers of the Communist Party of Kampuchea in Cambodia

The Khmer Rouge was the name popularly given to the followers of the Communist Party of Kampuchea (CPK) and by extension to the regime through which the CPK ruled in Cambodia between 1975 and 1979. The name had originally been used in the 1950s by Norodom Sihanouk as a blanket term for the Cambodian left.

Ieng Sary Cambodian politician

Ieng Sary was a co-founder and senior member of the Khmer Rouge. He was a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Kampuchea led by Pol Pot and served in the 1975–79 government of Democratic Kampuchea as foreign minister and deputy prime minister. He was known as "Brother Number Three" as he was third in command after Pol Pot and Nuon Chea. His wife, Ieng Thirith, served in the Khmer Rouge government as social affairs minister. Ieng Sary was arrested in 2007 and was charged with crimes against humanity but died of heart failure before the case against him could be brought to a verdict.


She was the sister of Khieu Ponnary, who was the first wife of Pol Pot. She was arrested by the Extraordinary Chamber in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) in November 2007 with her husband, Ieng Sary, on suspicion of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Khieu Ponnary was the first wife of Pol Pot, sister of Khieu Thirith and sister-in-law to Ieng Sary.

Pol Pot 20th-century Cambodian revolutionary and politician

Pol Pot was a Cambodian revolutionary and politician who served as the general secretary of the Communist Party of Kampuchea from 1963 to 1981. Ideologically a Marxist–Leninist and Khmer nationalist, he led the Khmer Rouge group from 1963 until 1997. From 1976 to 1979, he served as the Prime Minister of Democratic Kampuchea.

Genocide is intentional action to destroy a people in whole or in part. The hybrid word "genocide" is a combination of the Greek word γένος and the Latin suffix -caedo. The United Nations Genocide Convention, which was established in 1948, defines genocide as "acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group".

Early years

Born Khieu Thirith in northwestern Cambodia's Battambang Province, [7] she came from a relatively wealthy and privileged family, and was the second daughter of a Cambodian judge who abandoned the family during World War II, running off to Battambang with a Cambodian princess. [8]

Cambodia Southeast Asian sovereign state

Cambodia, officially the Kingdom of Cambodia, is a country located in the southern portion of the Indochina peninsula in Southeast Asia. It is 181,035 square kilometres in area, bordered by Thailand to the northwest, Laos to the northeast, Vietnam to the east and the Gulf of Thailand to the southwest.

Battambang Province Province in Cambodia

Battambang is a province (khaet) of Cambodia located in the far northwest. Bordering provinces are Banteay Meanchey to the north, Pursat to the east and south, Siem Reap to the northeast, and Pailin to the west. The northern and southern extremes of the province's western boundaries form part of the international border with Thailand. In addition, Tonle Sap forms part of the northeastern boundary between Siem Reap and Pursat. Its capital and largest city is Battambang.

World War II 1939–1945 global war

World War II, also known as the Second World War, was a global war that lasted from 1939 to 1945. The vast majority of the world's countries—including all the great powers—eventually formed two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis. A state of total war emerged, directly involving more than 100 million people from over 30 countries. The major participants threw their entire economic, industrial, and scientific capabilities behind the war effort, blurring the distinction between civilian and military resources. World War II was the deadliest conflict in human history, marked by 50 to 85 million fatalities, most of whom were civilians in the Soviet Union and China. It included massacres, the genocide of the Holocaust, strategic bombing, premeditated death from starvation and disease, and the only use of nuclear weapons in war.

Thirith graduated from the Lycée Sisowath in Phnom Penh, and while still in Cambodia she became engaged to Ieng Sary, who attended Lycée in the year above her. She went on to Paris with her sister, where she studied English literature, majoring in Shakespeare at the Sorbonne. She became the first Cambodian to achieve a degree in English literature. [9] Thirith married Ieng Sary in the town hall of Paris' 15th arrondissement the summer of 1951 and took her husband's name, becoming Ieng Thirith. [8] Her older sister, Khieu Ponnary, later became the wife of Pol Pot. Together, the two sisters and their husbands later became known as "Cambodia's Gang of Four", a reference to the radical group led by Jiang Qing (Chiang Ching), the widow of Mao Tse-tung. [10]

Lycée Preah Sisowath is a secondary school in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The school was founded in 1873 as a collège and became a lycée in 1933. It is named after King Sisowath I.

Phnom Penh Autonomous municipality in Cambodia

Phnom Penh, formerly known as Krong Chaktomuk or Krong Chaktomuk Serimongkul, is the capital and most populous city in Cambodia. Phnom Penh has been the national capital since French colonization of Cambodia, and has grown to become the nation's economic, industrial, and cultural center.

Paris Capital of France

Paris is the capital and most populous city of France, with an area of 105 square kilometres and an official estimated population of 2,140,526 residents as of 1 January 2019. Since the 17th century, Paris is one of Europe's major centres of finance, diplomacy, commerce, fashion, science, and the arts.


She returned to her native Cambodia in 1957 and worked as a professor before founding a private English school in 1960. [7] She was also a senior member of the Democratic Kampuchea (DK) regime. From 1975 to 1979 Thirith was Minister of Social Affairs and Action and Head of Democratic Kampuchea's Red Cross Society.

Democratic Kampuchea former country

The state of Kampuchea, officially Democratic Kampuchea, existed between 1975 and 1979 in present-day Cambodia. The state was controlled by the Khmer Rouge (KR) and was founded when KR forces defeated the Khmer Republic of Lon Nol in 1975.

Later years

Thirith lived with her husband, Ieng Sary, in a luxurious villa on Street 21, in southern Phnom Penh. [11] Until her arrest, she was rarely seen in public.

Thirith on trial in 2011. Ieng-Thearith-in-court-VOA-khmer.jpg
Thirith on trial in 2011.

By 2006, Ieng Thirith and her husband had retained foreign legal counsel to assist with their defence as the Cambodia Tribunal made progress with courtroom preparation and judge selection. [11] She was arrested, along with ailing Ieng Sary, [12] on 12 November 2007, at their home in Phnom Penh, after being indicted by the Cambodia Tribunal. [13]

She was arrested for crimes against humanity: [14] "planning, direction, coordination and ordering of widespread purges ... and the unlawful killing or murder of staff members from within the Ministry of Social Affairs." [7] On 17 November 2011, Thirith was ruled mentally unfit to stand trial, due to her severe case of Alzheimer's disease, and was ordered to be released. [15] Prosecutors appealed against her release. [15] On 13 December 2011, appeals judges reversed the ruling to release Thirith and ordered new medical exams to see how mentally fit she was to stand trial. [16] In September 2012, the November 2011 ruling of her mental incompetence was put back into place, and she was released from prison.

She died on 22 August 2015 at the age of 83 from complications of the disease. [17]

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  1. David Chandler: "Voices from S-21", Chapter 3: "Choosing Enemies", p.69. University of California, 1999. "In mid-1976 Khieu Thirith, who was Ieng Sary's wife and Pol Pot's sister-in-law (...)"
  2. "តួឯកក្នុងសំណុំរឿង០០២៖ អៀង ធីរិទ្ធ (IENG THIRITH)" [Starred in Case 002: Ieng Thirith] (in Khmer). Archived from the original on 2013-02-10.
  3. Summons - Expert. Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia: 18 August 2011.
  4. ECCC, Co-Investigative Judges, Closing Order, 15 September 2010, para. 1207.
  5. "Ieng Thirith". Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia. Archived from the original on 21 February 2014. Retrieved 18 February 2014.
  6. Ben Kiernan: "The Pol Pot Regime", Chapter Three: Cleansing the Countryside, p. 101, Yale University, 1996. "Khieu Thirith was "in charge of culture, social welfare and foreign affairs, sharing the last field with her husband Ieng Sary."
  7. 1 2 3 Munthit, Ker (11 November 2007). "Ieng Thirith: A pioneer among female leaders of the Khmer Rouge". MSNBC. Associated Press. Archived from the original on 2007-11-18. Retrieved 15 November 2011.
  8. 1 2 David P. Chandler (1999). Brother Number One: A Political Biography of Pol Pot. Westview Press. p. 32. ISBN   0813335108 . Retrieved 2007-11-15.
  9. "Ieng Thirith: 'First Lady' of Cambodia's Khmer Rouge dies while facing charges of genocide, crimes against humanity". Australian Broadcasting Commission. 22 August 2015. Archived from the original on 22 August 2015.
  10. Elite’s Children Find Love in a Hot Political Climate, Cambodia Daily Weekend Edition Saturday, 17–18 January 2004
  11. 1 2 Michael Sheridan (19 February 2006). "Pol Pot's in-laws face trial". London: Retrieved 2007-11-15.
  12. Ian MacKinnon, South-east Asia correspondent (12 November 2007). "Leading Khmer Rouge figures arrested". London: Guardian Unlimited. Retrieved 2007-11-15.
  13. "ECCC detains Ieng Sary, wife for questioning" Archived 9 March 2009 at the Wayback Machine , Xinhua, 12 November 2007.
  14. "Ex-official of Khmer Rouge and wife arrested for crimes against humanity", Associated Press (International Herald Tribune), 12 November 2007.
  15. 1 2 Kong Sothanarith (2011-11-17). "Tribunal Finds Ieng Thirith Unfit for Upcoming Trial". VOA Khmer. Retrieved 2014-02-02.
  16. "'Unfit' Khmer Rouge defendant to stay detained until new exam determines mental fitness for trial". Associated Press. 2011-12-13.