The International Criminal Law blog

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The International Criminal Law blog

Former Khmer Rouge Leader 'Unfit to Stand Trial'

19 November 2011 by Administrator

A guest blog by Jake Taylor

On Thursday, the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), declared that Ieng Thirith, the 78-year-old former minister of social affairs in the Khmer Rouge regime, was "not fit to stand trial” on the grounds of her dementia.

The decision came only days before the second trial at the ECCC is set to begin. Last month, court-appointed medical experts testified that Ieng Thirith was suffering from 'moderate dementia' and would be unable to follow the complex trial proceedings. In light of this information, the judges held, on Thursday, that the "trial and continued detention of an accused who lacks capacity to understand proceedings against her or to meaningfully participate in her own defence would not serve the interests of justice". The judges further held that pending any objections, she should be released.

Ieng Thirith was the only woman amongst four defendants to stand trial for the atrocities committed in Cambodia in the 1970s. The trial against three other Defendants: Ieng Sary, the former Khmer Rouge foreign minister; Khieu Samphon, the nominal head of state; and Nuon Chea, the prime minister, also known as Brother Number 2 begins on Monday. This trial follows the conviction of Kaing Guek Eav, alias “Duch” the head of the notorious Tuol Sleung torture facility, in separate proceedings last year.

This news is yet another setback for the trial process which was hoped to provide some form of catharsis for a country still recovering from the regime that left 1.8 million people dead. The ECCC has been plagued by allegations of corruption - with staff having to make kick back payments to secure their jobs, political interference by the incumbent Prime Minister Hun Sen; and the use of at least some evidence which is known by all Parties to have been obtained by torture – all of which threaten to overshadow the Court's proceedings.

The timing of the ruling - just days away from the second trial - only underscores the advanced age of the three remaining Defendants with the crimes they are charged with having taken place over 30 years ago. Recognising that time is short, the ECCC has opted to try each of the charges in the complex second case separately in the hope that this will expedite proceedings.

After note: One of the Prosecutors, Andrew Cayley stated that the OTP “have applied for a stay of the immediate release and we have also filed a motion of appeal in respect to certain parts of the decision itself”.

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