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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - KRT health trial begins

KRT health trial begins

Prosecutors are set to challenge Khmer Rouge Brother No 2 Nuon Chea’s claim that he is unfit for trial, as Cambodia’s war crimes tribunal opens hearings today to determine the fitness of two aging accused in its second case.

Khmer Rouge Social Action Minister Ieng Thirith and Nuon Chea – who stand accused of crimes against humanity, genocide and other charges for their alleged roles in the deaths of an estimated 1.7 million
under Pol Pot’s reign – have both contested their ability to stand trial and underwent examinations by geriatrician John Campbell earlier this year.

Campbell declared KR Foreign Minister Ieng Sary fit for trial, while head of state Khieu Samphan never challenged his ability to participate in the trial.

Tarik Abdulhak, senior assistant prosecutor in the office of the co-prosecutors, said yesterday that there was insufficient evidence to show that the fitness of Nuon Chea, 85, was in question. “Essentially the documentation, much of which remains confidential, has consistently shown that there aren’t significant concerns that would warrant further inquiry into his fitness,” he said.

Nuon Chea’s lawyers, who declined to comment yesterday, have challenged Campbell’s assessment due to an alleged “lack of an objective standard”.

Perhaps the most serious questions remain as to the fitness of 79-year-old Ieng Thirith. The court has said that she requires “further expert assessment” of her mental health, and will schedule additional hearings to consider results of the pending exam.

Ieng Thirith’s attorneys declined to comment yesterday, but counsel Phat Pouv Seang told the Post earlier this month that her condition began declining about a year ago, and stated that she had difficulty recognising people and communicating. Her lawyers said in a July 22 filing to the court that they were “currently not able to take instructions” from her.

Despite longtime speculation about Ieng Thirith’s mental health, the co-investigating judges stated in their September, 2010 Closing Order that a psychiatric evaluation of Ieng Thirith concluded that “there was an absence of any serious mental problem”.

In 2009, the Khmer Rouge “First Lady” launched a 15-minute tirade against her accusers, stating in court: “don’t accuse me of being a murderer, otherwise you will be cursed to the seventh circle of hell”. In a 2008 hearing, Ieng Thirith said she could not remember how many children she had.

Just what will be made public at the hearings is an open question, with no advance agenda released by the court. The Trial Chamber has stated that this week’s hearings would be “presumptively public and conducted to the maximum extent possible in open session”, but it has also noted the need to take into account the right to privacy of the accused.

Civil party lawyers have critised a decision of the Trial Chamber to restrict access to the health examination of Ieng Thirith to only the two civil party lead co-lawyers, and called for “unrestricted access by all Civil Party lawyers to the medical reports” of Campbell in a filing made public yesterday.

“The lawyers of the civil parties are scandalised by the fact that the report related to Ieng Thirith has been classified strictly confidential, preventing civil parties from having access to its content as a result,” lawyers with the group Advocates sans Frontiers France said in a statement on Thursday.

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