The mental health of Khmer Rouge Social Action Minister Ieng Thirith is in question, as her attorney said yesterday that she was having trouble remembering things and recognising people, while Cambodia’s war crimes tribunal said she required further examination.
Phat Pouv Seang, defence counsel for Ieng Thirith, who faces charges including crimes against humanity and genocide, said that his client’s state of mental health became “more serious” about a year ago.
“I was selected as her defence lawyer in 2007. At that time, my communication with her went well,” he said. “But later on the communication changed as she lost her mind a lot and it was very complicated for me to talk with her. I see my client lost her mind and cannot remember or recognise who is saying anything.”
The Khmer Rouge tribunal’s Trial Chamber has scheduled hearings later this month to consider health examinations of Ieng Thirith, 79, and Brother No 2 Nuon Chea, 85, conducted by John Campbell, a geriatrician from New Zealand. Court spokesman Lars Olsen said yesterday that Campbell’s report “confirmed that further expert assessment of Ieng Thirith’s mental fitness to stand trial was needed”.
Campbell declared Foreign Minister Ieng Sary fit, while head of state Khieu Samphan never requested an exam.
Ieng Thirith’s attorneys said in a July 22 filing that they were “currently not able to take instructions” from their client.
Anne Heindel, a legal advisor at the Documentation Centre of Cambodia, said that “the bottom line is if you can’t instruct your counsel, then you’re not participating in your own defence. So that is the threshold of a fitness evaluation.”
While Olsen said that it was “too early to speculate” on the outcomes of fitness hearings, Heindel said the court would likely be obligated to terminate or suspend proceedings against someone deemed unfit.
“Usually, they restrict somebody to a medical facility… so they can get the treatment they need, with the idea being that they will hopefully be fit in the future,” Heindel said. “In Cambodia, we don’t have mental health facilities, so it’s unclear what they can do.”
Olsen said the Trial Chamber would appoint psychiatric experts to examine Ieng Thirith and would schedule an additional hearing to consider the examination.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY CHEANG SOKHA