The Khmer Rouge tribunal’s oldest detainee, former Khmer Rouge Minister of Foreign Affairs Ieng Sary, sought bail at the Khmer Rouge tribunal yesterday for the third and what will almost certainly be the final time.
As they have since his arrest, arguments again turned to the suspect’s frailty as the hearing was punctuated by several extended breaks, twice for Ieng Sary, 84, to use the bathroom and once because he was “rather tired.” With two hours left in the hearing, he asked permission to leave the room due to back pain and did not return.
Ieng Sary is charged with war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide, each of which carry a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.
In renewing his detention in November, judicial investigators found that the body of evidence against Ieng Sary had continued to grow, with an additional 50 witness statements taken since April indicating his membership in the Khmer Rouge standing committee and his awareness of and role in promoting that government’s policies.
Michael Karnavas, his American defense lawyer, said yesterday that the work of the court’s co-investigating judges had not been thorough enough to justify a detention likely to stretch to three years.
“If you’re going to incarcerate someone for two or three years while you do this investigation, there is an obligation to do this investigation properly” or allow for less restrictive conditions of detention, he said.
Ieng Sary has been hospitalized at least 10 times since his arrest, suffers from lumbago and a urinary disorder and has undergone four heart operations since 1994 including a double-bypass. His previous bail hearing a year ago rescheduled because he was too ill to leave his cell.
The defense said it was partly this frailty that justified their request for house arrest, as he was not a flight risk.
Mr Karnavas, added that it was “ridiculous” to claim that his client’s release would threaten public order, one of several reasons judges gave for his continued detention.
“This country is capable of keeping someone under house arrest who can barely walk to the toilet,” he said.
Perhaps most boldly, Cambodian defense lawyer Ang Udom drew a parallel to the Chea Vichea case, in which two suspects almost universally believed to have been scapegoats in the murder of a prominent union leader, were conditionally released last year.
“Why can’t this court make a decision to release my client, following the example of the national court?” he asked.
Prosecutors disagreed with each of these points and argued that the defense had not demonstrated any change in Ieng Sary’s circumstances since previous rulings on his detention.
Senior Assistant Prosecutor Anees Ahmed also enumerated the ways the court was safeguarding Ieng Sary’s health, including installing a handrail in his cell and recently giving him “dozens of sessions of physiotherapy.”
“He may be very old, but detention is not life-threatening to him,” he said, adding, “House arrest is not warranted on health grounds or any other grounds.”