A United Nations-backed tribunal has wrapped up three days of hearings in the Cambodian capital to help determine whether two of the most senior surviving leaders of the Khmer Rouge regime are fit enough to stand trial for alleged genocide and other war crimes.
The session held by the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), sitting in Phnom Penh, ended yesterday after hearing an expert’s findings regarding the health of former social affairs minister, Ieng Thirith, 79, and Nuon Chea, former deputy secretary of the Communist Party of Kampuchea, 84.
The expert, Professor John Campbell, a geriatrician from New Zealand, said that Ieng Thirith is suffering from a serious form of progressive dementia, likely due to Alzheimer’s. He said she has “severe cognitive impairment” and recommended her for further assessment by psychiatrists.
“There are a number of factors that may be contributing and I think that Alzheimer’s is certainly one of those,” he said, concluding that she would have difficulty instructing her counsel and participating fully in the trial proceedings.
The court decided that psychiatrists would shortly conduct a supplemental assessment on Ieng Thirith’s mental health and that the assessment will be examined in due course.
Nuon Chea, meanwhile, was not found unfit to stand trial by Mr. Campbell in his assessment but contested his assessment and demanded that he be re-assessed by another expert.
“It’s not that I don’t believe Dr. Campbell, but my health conditions are getting worse and worse, both physically and emotionally as well as my intellectual ability,” said the accused.
Mr. Campbell repeatedly told the court that Nuon Chea displayed no evidence of health conditions that might prevent him from participating meaningfully in the proceedings, adding that his stroke in 1995 was minor and his cardiac conditions appear stable.
The two accused are standing trial along with Ieng Sary, 85, who is Ieng Thirith’s husband and former foreign minister, and Khieu Samphan, 80, former head of State of Democratic Kampuchea, for crimes allegedly committed under the Pol Pot regime in the late 1970s.
The ECCC – an independent court using a mixture of Cambodian staff and judges and foreign personnel – was set up in 2006 under an agreement signed by the UN and Cambodia.