Lawyers for jailed Khmer Rouge leader Ieng Sary have wrapped up their appeal against his detention, saying the 82-year-old's rapidly deteriorating health was reason enough to release him ahead of his likely trial for crimes allegedly committed during the 1970s regime.
“He can hardly walk, he needs constant medical attention, and since he has been in detention he has been hospitalized five or six times,” Sary’s American lawyer Michael Karnavas told Cambodia's UN-backed genocide tribunal.
Sary, the regime's former foreign minister, suffers from heart problems, high blood pressure and arthritis.
“Doctors are looking at him every day. How is it possible for him to flee ... [It is] rather hard for someone who has these health problems to simply disappear,” he added, arguing that his client should be transferred from the court's detention facilities to a hospital where he could be kept under protected custody.
“We are asking first and foremost he be detained in a medical facility where he can get medical attention,” said Karnavas,
Sary is one of five former Khmer Rouge leaders detained at Cambodia’s Extraordinary Chambers, which is attempting to establish accountability for the regime's bloody rule over Cambodia from 1975-79, when an estimated 1.7 million people died from starvation, overwork or execution.
Like most of the defendants, Sary appeared frail and had to be helped in and out of his chair by prison guards. But he seemed to be listening attentively and taking notes as the July 3 hearing proceeded.
“In the court’s detention facilities there is no one staying close to me and I have to ring a bell to attract the attention of court officials if I need help,” he told the court’s pretrial chamber at the conclusion of the four-day hearing that began June 30.
“I need people close to me to give me immediate assistance” in case of heart problems, said Sary, who was arrested in Phnom Penh with his wife, former regime Social Affairs Minister Ieng Thirith, last November.
Sary's hearing adjourned earlier than expected on its first day after a doctor said he was too sick to continue. Prosecutors, however, accused him of merely trying to delay proceedings.
On July 3, the prosecution argued that the medical care at the tribunal was “probably higher than anywhere else in Cambodia,” and said the defense had not presented sufficient medical evidence to suggest Sary was ill enough to need constant hospitalization.
“He is not anywhere near the verge of death,” said deputy co-prosecutor William Smith.
“The detention facilities employ five full-time doctors and five full-time nurses to make sure the accused, including this charged person, get the medical treatment they deserve,” Smith said.
Medical professionals had said that no hospital stay or any other special arrangement were necessary for Sary, according to Smith,
With the exception of Duch, who is in his mid-60s, all the defendants at the tribunal are in their 70s and 80s, and worries for their health have put pressure on the court to speed the process along for fear they could die before going to trial.
Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot died in 1998, while another likely tribunal defendant, regime military commander Ta Mok, died in 2006.
The defense's plea over Sary's health followed its earlier argument for his outright release on the grounds that a 1996 royal pardon and an amnesty from prosecution under a law that outlawed the Khmer Rouge should shield him from another trial.
Sary was found guilty in absentia of genocide and crimes against humanity at the People's Revolutionary Tribunal, organized by the occupying Vietnamese forces in 1979. He was pardoned 17 years later by then-king Norodom Sihanouk after defecting to the government – a move that effectively destroyed the Khmer Rouge.
The defense also attempted to win Sary's release by citing the principle of double jeopardy, in reference to the earlier conviction.
Throughout Sary's appeal hearing, the court had to grapple with the role of civil parties, with the defense complaining that they were being allowed to hijack the proceedings with emotional, rather than legal, arguments for their client's continued detention.
“The civil party lawyers need to learn how to conduct themselves in this sort of a proceeding,” Karnavas told reporters after the hearing.
“It is exhausting,” he said, adding that the defense might request more resources because the presence of so many civil parties damaged the principle of equality of arms and the presumption of innocence.