23 Aug 2015

Khmer Rouge 'first lady' dies

9:15 am on 23 August 2015

The former "first lady" of Cambodia's murderous Khmer Rouge regime has died, without ever facing trial on charges of genocide.

Ieng Thirith, pictured in 2009, in a Phnom Penh court.

Ieng Thirith, pictured in 2009 in a Phnom Penh court. Photo: AFP

Ieng Thirith, a French-educated revolutionary who died at 83, was one of the few women in the leadership of the communist movement during the horrors of the "Killing Fields" era.

She had been facing charges of genocide and crimes against humanity, but was freed in 2012 when the case against her was suspended after the court ruled she was unfit to stand trial due to progressive dementia.

Ieng Thirith was the sister-in-law of the late Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot, and served as the regime's social affairs minister alongside her husband, former foreign minister Ieng Sary.

At one point this year, she was hospitalised in Thailand with heart, bladder and lung problems.

In the end she died in a former Khmer Rouge stronghold on the border with Thailand where many regime leaders settled after they were ousted by the Vietnamese.

The suspension of the case against her was a bitter blow to many who survived the Khmer Rouge, who are blamed for the deaths of up to two million people.

The charges against her of war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity were never dropped, however.

The Khmer Rouge wiped out nearly a quarter of the population through starvation, forced labour and execution, in a bid to forge an agrarian utopia.

Her husband Ieng Sary died in 2013, aged 87, before a verdict was delivered in his trial.