Questioning of witnesses at the Khmer Rouge tribunal was postponed yesterday, after a doctor informed the Trial Chamber that former Foreign Minister Ieng Sary was too sick to attend proceedings.
“The change we have observed is that he [Ieng Sary] has to visit the toilet too often and…getting up to walk to the toilet often makes it difficult for his health and makes him more tired,” Dr. Kem Samsan told the Trial Chamber yesterday morning.
“At 9:10 [a.m.] he indicated that he was very dizzy and fatigued and felt confused and his memory is too poor to observe the proceedings,” Dr. Samsan continued, in response to a question from Judge Jean-Marc Lavergne over the veracity of Ieng Sary’s claim of ill health.
The doctor went on to say that he could not conclude whether or not Ieng Sary was indeed suffering from memory loss as he claimed.
“Whether he understands or remains focused enough to observe the hearings it is hard to decide,” Dr. Samsan said.
Trial Chamber President Nil Nonn ruled that the hearing would be deferred for the morning. When the court reconvened in the afternoon, Judge Nonn postponed testimony for the rest of the day.
Michael Karnavas, international defense counsel for Ieng Sary, claimed that his client was physically weak, dizzy, and unable to concentrate.
“Mr. Ieng Sary was too unwell to follow the proceedings. Given the importance of the two witnesses on the stand, Ieng Sary was unwilling to waive his participation. The Trial Chamber acted appropriately and we are grateful,” Mr. Karnavas said.
Judge Nonn said that if possible the court would hear testimony today from two witnesses–Suong Sikoeun and Ong Thong Hoeung╤who took the stand last week and answered questions regarding the operation of the foreign ministry during the Pol Pot regime.
The witnesses’ testimony is hoped to shed light on Ieng Sary’s role in the regime and his actions within the Foreign Ministry.
A French-educated intellectual, Mr. Sikoeun was head of propaganda at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and Mr. Thong Hoeung was a detainee at Boeng Trabek prison who survived and who meet Ieng Sary.
During last week’s proceedings national counsel for Ieng Sary, Ang Udom, informed the court that his client’s memory had “deteriorated greatly.” If his condition continued to get worse, Mr. Udom said, the defense would ask the trial chamber to adjourn early and refrain from hearing witnesses related to Ieng Sary. President Nil Nonn had instructed the defense to make a formal request.
This is not the first time that court proceedings have been adjourned due to the 87-year-old’s ill health. In May, Ieng Sary was admitted to hospital for five days suffering from bronchitis.
His wife, Ieng Thirith, Pol Pot’s one-time minister for social action, was declared unfit for trial last year after being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.
Many tribunal watchers worry that as the trial drags on and the accused get ever older and weaker, the chance to see justice done will be lost.
“Obviously this is a tremendous concern and this is the very reason they’ve cut the indictment and made the case smaller,” said Anne Heindel, legal adviser to the Documentation Center of Cambodia (DC-Cam).
Despite the fact that such incidents of ill health can hold proceedings up, the accused are well within their rights to want to attend their hearings when they are able to, Ms. Heindel added.
“Of course, Ieng Sary has the right to participate in his own defense, particularly when a witness is speaking directly to his knowledge of crimes during that period,” she said.