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Cambodia genocide tribunal concludes fitness hearing for Khmer Rouge leaders

The UN-backed Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) [official website] on Wednesday concluded three days of hearings [UN News Centre report] in the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh aimed at determining whether two senior Khmer Rouge [BBC backgrounder] leaders are fit enough to stand trial on accusations of genocide and other war crimes. The ECCC heard testimony from New Zealand expert geriatrician Professor John Campbell that Ieng Thirith [ECCC backgrounder], the sister-in-law of Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot, now 79, suffers from dementia and memory loss [Daily Mail report] commonly caused by Alzheimer's. The court-appointed expert indicated Thirith needs additional psychiatric assessment [AFP report]. Campbell found no major concerns with 84-year-old "Brother Number Two" Nuon Chea [ECCC backgrounder], the supposed ideologue of the regime. Chea, however, contests Campbell's assessment and requested another examination by a different specialist. Because Ieng Thirith's assessment might take months, the joint trial of the four former Khmer Rouge leaders may be further delayed until next year.

In May, a panel in the ECCC denied a motion for pretrial release [JURIST report] by former Khmer Rouge official Ieng Sary [ECCC backgrounder; JURIST news archive]. Ieng, 85, served as deputy foreign minister under the Khmer Rouge regime during its reign in Cambodia from 1975-1979. Ieng's co-defendants in ECCC Case 2 [materials], Nuon Chea, Khieu Samphan [ECCC backgrounder] and Ieng Thirith have all challenged pretrial custody unsuccessfully. In March, Kaing Guek Eav [ECCC backgrounder; JURIST news archive], a former prison chief at the notorious Toul Sleng prison under the Khmer Rouge, better known as "Duch," appealed a 35-year sentence for war crimes [JURIST reports] and crimes against humanity handed down by the ECCC last July. The conviction was the court's first since its founding in 2006.

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