Madame Ieng served as the Khmer Rouge’s Minister of Social Affairs during the Khmer Rouge’s lethal quest to build a Maoist utopia. She is married to former Minister of Foreign Affairs Ieng Sary, who, along with Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan, remains on trial on charges of crimes against humanity, grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions, and genocide.
Madame Ieng has been deemed unfit to stand trial on account of her cognitive impairment. Court appointed experts unanimously diagnosed the 80 year old with progressive dementia, most likely Alzheimer’s disease, in November 2011. The Trial Chamber consequently found that Madame Ieng would be incapable of sufficiently understanding the course of the proceedings due to her long-term memory loss. She would therefore be unable properly to instruct her defence lawyers and participate effectively in her own defence.
The Co-Prosecutors appealed the Trial Chamber’s November 2011 decision to release Ieng Thirith, and the Supreme Court Chamber subsequently ruled that the ECCC was obliged to exhaust all measures available which might help improve Madame Ieng’s mental health such that she would become fit to stand trial. The Trial Chamber accordingly requested additional medical treatment. A further assessment of her mental health took place from 27-28 August 2012, six months after the commencement of the treatment.
The three medical experts re-examining Madame Ieng had all previously examined her in 2011. Geriatrician Professor John Campbell (New Zealand) and psychiatrists Dr Seena Fazel (United Kingdom) and Dr Huot Lina (Cambodia) were “united in [their] firm opinion that Ieng Thirith has significant dementia [and that] there would be no advantage in trying any other medication or remedy”.
The experts were also unanimous in their assessment that Madame Ieng is not feigning her illness in order to avoid trial.
The Trial Chamber reaffirmed its previous finding that Madame Ieng is unfit to stand trial based on her failure to satisfy the Strugar criteria. It confirmed the severance of the charges against her and indefinitely stayed the proceedings against her. In such circumstances, the Trial Chamber is obliged to release the accused.
The Trial Chamber has acknowledged that as the proceedings against Madame Ieng have been stayed indefinitely, the Court lacks any legal basis to impose coercive conditions against her upon release. However, the Trial Chamber has reminded the Accused of her obligation not to interfere with the administration of justice and to remain within the Kingdom of Cambodia. She is permitted to contact her husband.
It is anticipated that Ieng Thirith will be released within 24 hours.
The finding of unfitness to stand trial is not a finding of guilt or innocence, and does not have the effect of withdrawing the charges against the Accused.
For a full analysis of the latest fitness hearing, please see the Cambodia Tribunal Monitor blog.
Photograph credit: AFP