Former Khmer Rouge official Ieng Thirith’s deteriorating mental health threatens to disrupt an upcoming hearing before the ECCC, a lawyer for the regime’s former social affairs minister said, adding that he hopes an insanity plea will free his client from pre-trial detention.
Attorney Path Pov Seang told the Post on May 14 that he had Thai-language medical documents that clearly showed his client was not mentally able to appear in court.
Both Thirith and her husband, former Khmer Rouge foreign minister Ieng Sary, traveled frequently to Thailand for medical treatment before their arrest in November.
“If judges follow the law I hope [she will be released]. They can’t imprison a mentally ill person,” he said.
“I am worried that she will shout during hearing if she does not agree with something – I’ve told her, ‘Please do not shout during the hearing because you do not benefit from it and I am your lawyer, I will help defend you,’” he added.
Thirith is expected to appear before the UN-backed Khmer Rouge tribunal on May 21 to plead for her freedom pending trial.
Family members who have visited her in court have also said Thirith is ill and should be released.
“She is sick therefore it is not easy for her to stay there,” said Seng Rorn, Thirith’s son-in-law. “It is the work of lawyer and judges to decide [if she will be released on bail] but she is a sick person.”
The likely insanity plea is the latest maneuver by defense lawyers, who in April halted proceedings during a detention hearing for Khieu Samphan, the former Khmer Rouge head of state, with a protest over the lack of translated documents.
At the time, Samphan’s French lawyer, the famed “Devil’s Advocate” Jacques Verges, demanded that thousands of pages of documents related to his client’s case be translated into French, one of the three languages used by the court.
This interruption has underscored the massive backlog of documents in need of translating, and more damagingly, the court’s inability to do so, according to Andre Sirois, an attorney-at-law and professional legal translator working at the ECCC.
“One can only be extremely worried at the sorry state of legal translation, and the translation and interpretation in general, at ECCC,” Sirois said in an undated memo to Michelle Lee, the UN’s top administrator at the court which was obtained by the Post on May 2.
The memo goes on to outline the court’s total lack of qualified legal translators, claiming that the tribunal’s French language website is riddled with errors which were “seriously damaging the image and credibility of the ECCC and its officers at least among the French speaking State Members of the UN.”
Documents are often so-badly translated that they should not be used in court, the memo states, saying, “The result is abysmal.”
Tribunal officials have acknowledged a translation backlog, but the court is seeking nearly $114 million in additional funds to greatly expand its ability to translate documents, they say.