The United Nations-backed genocide tribunal in Cambodia ruled today that a 79-year-old former senior member of the Khmer Rouge is unfit to stand trial and ordered her unconditional release.
Ieng Thirith, former Social Affairs Minister for the Democratic Kampuchea, was on trial for genocide and other crimes against humanity along with her husband and former foreign minister Ieng Sary, former so-called Brother Number Two Nuon Chea, and former head of State Khieu Samphan, all leaders of the Khmer Rouge regime during the late 1970s.
In its ruling, the trial chamber of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) said it has found that Ms. Thirith suffers from “a progressive, degenerative condition” and that her condition is unlikely to improve even with treatment.
Four expert psychiatrists who examined her in September diagnosed Ms. Thirith with clinical dementia, most likely Alzheimer’s, which would hinder her participation in court hearings.
In addition, the expert geriatrician concluded that it would be difficult for her to understand the nature of the charges against her or to follow the proceedings, to understand witness statements from events taking place 35 years ago, to instruct her counsel, or to testify in her own defence.
“The trial chamber judges are unanimously of the view that Ieng Thirith is unfit to stand trial and that the proceedings against her shall be stayed,” stated the decision handed down today.
Set up under an agreement signed in 2003 by the UN and the Government, the ECCC is an independent court that uses a mixture of Cambodian staff and judges and foreign personnel.
It is tasked with trying those deemed most responsible for crimes committed under the Khmer Rouge between 1975 and 1979 during which as many as two million people are thought to have died.