The Khmer Rouge tribunal’s Trial Chamber on Friday ruled that elderly war crimes defendant Nuon Chea is medically fit to stand trial, and that the case against the 86-year-old and his co-accused Khieu Samphan should proceed with reduced scope in terms of the many charges against them.
The two decisions were read out by Trial Chamber President Nil Nonn in a hearing that lasted little more than 20 minutes, and for which only one of the original four defendants—Khieu Samphan—was present. Of those, Ieng Sary died on March 14 and his wife and fellow defendant, Ieng Thirith, was ruled mentally unfit to stand trial last year.
“Notwithstanding the advanced age and frailty of the accused Nuon Chea and the accused’s precarious physical health, the recent report and testimony of court-appointed medical experts clearly indicate that the accused remains capable of meaningful participation in his own defense,” Judge Nonn told the chamber.
“The Trial Chamber affirms the earlier finding that the accused, Nuon Chea, is fit to stand trial.”
Earlier this week, court-appointed New Zealand doctor John Campbell and U.K. psychiatrist Seena Fazel testified as medical experts that while Nuon Chea is fit to stand trial, he could die within the next six months.
Nuon Chea’s national lawyer, Son Arun, said he was unhappy with the decision, “because the Trial Chamber believe and trust the two experts, but they just visited my client for one or two hours.”
“I stay with my client every day. I know, even though I’m not a doctor, that he has problems.”
The main issue, Mr. Arun said, is with Nuon Chea’s back. He also struggles to stay upright or awake for long periods of time.
After reading the decision, Judge Nonn then turned his attention to the future of the court’s ongoing Case 002, saying that having considered hearings held in February on how the case should proceed, the health of Nuon Chea and the death two weeks ago of Ieng Sary, the Trial Chamber decided to confine “the scope of Case 002/01 to the charges related to forced movement of populations phases 1 and 2 and executions at Tuol Po Chrey.”
Detailed reasons for both oral decisions on Friday would be given in written decisions in due course, Judge Nonn said.
On February 8, the court’s Supreme Court Chamber overturned a Trial Chamber decision made two months before the November 2011 start of Case 002, which stated that the trial would be separated into “mini-trials,” in an effort to cover the most ground regarding the many charges against the accused. The first of the mini-trials was focused on forced movement of people during the Pol Pot regime. This was later expanded to include executions at Tuol Po Chrey.
In its February ruling, the Supreme Court Chamber said that the Trial Chamber had erred in severing the case into mini-trials.
Friday’s decision means that the two remaining defendants, Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan, will continue to be tried on a limited number of charges, and not on the full plethora of charges contained in the case’s Closing Order, which outlines all the crimes alleged to have been committed by them during the bloody regime.
Panhavuth Long, a program officer for the court-monitoring group Cambodian Justice Initiative, said that while a written decision had yet to be rendered, it appeared the Trial Chamber’s decision to limit the scope of charges was linked primarily to concerns over the health of Nuon Chea, and the recent demise of Ieng Sary.
However, Khieu Samphan, who at 81 is in relatively stable health, should have all the charges against him investigated, Mr. Long said.
“It should not prevent the Trial Chamber from finding a way to have the scope expanded against Khieu Samphan,” he said.
“I would say the Trial Chamber took into consideration from all the parties, but ultimately it was based on the health of the accused, Nuon Chea, the death of Ieng Sary, and funding.”
According to Trial Chamber Judge Sylvia Cartwright, a renewed strike threat made on Thursday by the court’s long-unpaid Interpretation and Translation Unit staff was averted later that night after the U.N.’s special expert to the court, David Scheffer, managed to secure enough funding to see the court’s national component through to the end of April.
Mr. Scheffer said in an email on Friday that the Swedish and Norwegian governments had each contributed $1 million.
“These were contributions pledged for the international budget of the court but which are being redirected to support national salaries,” he said.
Lars Olsen, speaking on behalf of the U.N., said that Mr. Scheffer met with government officials between March 18 and 23, urging them to provide enough funding to cover the salaries of the court’s Cambodian staff, and held subsequent meetings with international donors.
“He was able to secure a temporary financial solution, and we are grateful to the governments concerned for their willingness to transfer funds from the international budget to the national budget,” Mr. Olsen said.
“However, it remains the obligation of the Royal Government under the U.N./Cambodia Agreement to pay these salaries, and [the] U.N. will continue to work urgently to see that the government meets this obligation, including full reimbursement of the amount of the transfer from the international side of the budget,” he added.