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
Born Khieu Thirith
10 March 1932
Battambang, Cambodia
Died 22 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]

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.

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]

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]


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.

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.

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 November 12, 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 November 17, 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 December 13, 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]


  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)" (in ភាសាខ្មែរ). Unknown parameter |trans_title= ignored (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  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. Retrieved 18 February 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  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. 7.0 7.1 7.2 Munthit, Ker (November 11, 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.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. 8.0 8.1 David P. Chandler (1999). Brother Number One: A Political Biography of Pol Pot. Westview Press. p. 32. ISBN 0813335108. Retrieved 2007-11-15.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  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.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. Securing Allegiance: Elite’s Children Find Love in a Hot Political Climate, Cambodia Daily Weekend Edition Saturday, January 17–18, 2004
  11. 11.0 11.1 Michael Sheridan (February 19, 2006). "Pol Pot's in-laws face trial". London: Retrieved 2007-11-15.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. Ian MacKinnon, South-east Asia correspondent (November 12, 2007). "Leading Khmer Rouge figures arrested". London: Guardian Unlimited. Retrieved 2007-11-15.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. "ECCC detains Ieng Sary, wife for questioning", Xinhua, November 12, 2007.
  14. "Ex-official of Khmer Rouge and wife arrested for crimes against humanity", Associated Press (International Herald Tribune), November 12, 2007.
  15. 15.0 15.1 Kong Sothanarith (2011-11-17). "Tribunal Finds Ieng Thirith Unfit for Upcoming Trial". VOA Khmer. Retrieved 2014-02-02.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. "Khmer Rouge defendant to stay detained until new exam determines mental fitness for trial". Washington Post. 2011-12-13. Unknown parameter |deadurl= ignored (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>[dead link]
  • Philip Short. Pol Pot: Anatomy of a Nightmare. Henry Holt and Company, 2005.

External links