The UN-backed Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) [official website; JURIST news archive] on Thursday decided [text, PDF; materials] that Ieng Thirith [ECCC profile, PDF] is unfit to stand trialjust days before the war crimes trial [press release] of the surviving Khmer Rouge [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive] leaders is set to start. Ieng, the former minister of social affairs and the only female leader to be charged, had been charged with genocide but will be released as soon as possible [AFP report] because of her recent diagnosis of dementia caused by the 79-year-old's Alzheimer's disease. The judges found, based on the opinions of a geriatrician and four psychiatrists [JURIST report], that Ieng's incapacity to remember her own husband's name, let alone her alleged contribution to the death of up to two million people, would not serve the interests of justice:
While acknowledging the possibility that Ieng Thirith could attempt to feign the cognitive impairment in view of the consequences of a finding of incapacity, all experts considered it unlikely that Ieng Thirith could falsely present with dementia. ... [Ieng's] long-term and short-term memory are limited and ... her condition will continue to deteriorate over time. ... The Psychiatric Experts ... considered that she possessed some understanding that she was accused and of what she was accused ... [and] retained some capacity to enter a plea, to understand the charges and details of the evidence against her, and to testify. ... However, the Accused's impaired memory will likely impact upon her ability to recall events that occurred between 1975 and 1979. ... [Ieng's inability to] adequately instruct counsel and effectively participate in her own defense ... [restricts the] exercise these fundamental fair trial rights meaningfully, and in accordance with the international standards ... the Chamber has no alternative but to declare her unfit.Prosecutors have 24 hours to appeal this decision. All four leaders have pleaded not guilty to charges including crimes against humanity, war crimes, genocide, religious persecution, homicide and torture.
The trial of the other three surviving leaders is set to begin [JURIST report] on Monday, November 21. The prosecution will have two days for opening statements followed by half a day of opening statements for the defense. The first segment of the trial is expected to conclude by December 16 for Christmas recess and will resume after the holiday break on January 9. In September, the ECCC ordered the trials be split into a series of smaller trials [JURIST report]. The ECCC said that the separation of trials will allow the tribunal to deliberate more quickly [press release] in the case [materials] against the elderly defendants. The first trial will focus on the beginning two phases of population movement and allegations of crimes against humanity, including murder, persecution not on religious grounds and forced disappearances associated with the first phases of population movement. Subsequent trials will focus on the third phase of population movement, genocide, persecution based on religious grounds and violation of the Geneva Conventions of 1949 [ICRC backgrounder].