Ieng Thirith Mentally Ill, Relatives Say

Family members of former Khmer Rouge Minister of Social Action Ieng Thirith claimed Wed­nesday that doctors in Thailand have diagnosed her as mentally ill, which raises questions as to wheth­er she would be fit to stand trial if called before the Khmer Rouge tribunal.

Both Ieng Thirith, 75, and her husband, former Khmer Rouge Foreign Minister Ieng Sary, 78, have been the focus of intense speculation as judges at the Extraordin­ary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia have begun to indict regime-era suspects.

Ieng Sophy, Ieng Thirith’s daughter, said Wednesday that her mother has been afflicted with a mental illness for around 10 years and that recently it has become more serious.

“She always loses her memory and she forgets more every day,” she said. “She repeats things she’s said because she thinks she hasn’t said it.”

Ieng Thirith’s elder sister Khieu Ponnary was also said to have been mentally ill for decades before she died in 2003. Khieu Ponnary, who was Pol Pot’s first wife, was also re­portedly prone to memory loss and suffered an intense paranoia towards the Vietnamese.

Another family member, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that Ieng Thirith’s condition was identical to that of Khieu Ponnary.

“Her disease is like her sister’s. It’s the same,” the family member said, adding that Ieng Thirith had been taking medicine for a few years under the recommendation of Thai doctors, but the condition has only worsened.

“The medicine makes her worse and worse,” the family member said.

The relative added that Ieng Sary had returned from Thailand on Sunday after a medical examination and that the elderly couple both suffer from swollen legs and have difficulty walking.

Peter Foster, UN public affairs of­ficer for the ECCC, declined to comment on Ieng Thirith specifically, but said that any suspects charg­ed by the court would be handled on a case-by-case basis.

“Each case that comes before the court, the judges will examine those personal circumstances and take the appropriate actions,” he said, adding that the court currently has no staff on hand for cases in­volving mental illness.

ECCC Co-Investigating Judge Marcel Lemonde also declined comment regarding Ieng Thirith.

Lemonde did note that rule 32 of the court’s internal rules states that co-investigating judges can order a charged person to undergo a medical, psychiatric or psychological ex­amination by an expert to determine if they are physically or mentally fit to stand trial.

“If they decide to order this medical examination, then, depending on the findings of the report, the judges will have to decide whether the charged person’s health is compatible with detention and trial,” he wrote in an e-mail.

Sok Sam Oeun, executive dir­ector for the Cambodian Defend­ers Project, said that he was aware of Ieng Thirith’s alleged mental condition, but said that Cambodian law is unclear when it comes to suspects suffering from mental illness.

He added that insanity as a de­fense, although unprecedented, could only be used if the suspect was considered mentally ill at the time they committed the crime.

“If the prisoner is insane, we cannot put the insane person in prison, but it does not mean that he or she is innocent,” he added.

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