Khmer Rouge defendant Nuon Chea collapsed and was taken to the hospital on Sunday suffering from severe bronchitis, the Khmer Rouge tribunal heard on Monday, bringing yet another halt to proceedings at the court, which only restarted January 8 after a two-week break.
Speaking in court, Nuon Chea’s lawyer, Victor Koppe, referred to a medical report issued by doctors stating that the 86-year-old collapsed on Sunday afternoon in the court’s detention center, and was brought to the Khmer-Soviet Friendship Hospital, where he was diagnosed as having severe bronchitis.
“Nuon Chea has been admitted to the Khmer Soviet Friendship hospital due to acute bronchitis. The Case 002 hearings have been temporarily adjourned. The Trial Chamber will update the parties about further hearings at latest by Wednesday morning,” the tribunal said in a statement.
Chhoeung Yav Yen, deputy director of the Khmer-Soviet Friendship Hospital, said doctors were still treating Nuon Chea and it was impossible to say when he would be discharged.
“Nuon Chea was admitted for treatment at this hospital [on Sunday] and our team of doctors checked his disease already today,” Mr. Yav Yen said.
“We cannot limit the time as to how many days he will need treatment—it depends on his situation and disease. If it isn’t serious, he can leave soon,” he added.
Yuko Maeda, a public affairs officer at the tribunal, said the ailing defendant is expected to remain in the hospital throughout the entire week.
“He is most likely required to stay for seven days according to the medical report,” Ms. Maeda said. “That is the initial diagnosis.”
Nuon Chea’s hospitalization has caused yet another setback in the sluggishly paced Case 002, which is still only holding the first of several “mini-trials.”
Case 002/01, as it is known, has been beset by delays over the past few months due to health concerns surrounding the case’s aging defendants. In September, Khmer Rouge Social Affairs Minister Ieng Thirith was ruled unfit to stand trial, and released. Doctors had testified in August that her cognitive abilities had deteriorated so irreparably that she could no longer meaningfully participate in her trial.
Of the remaining three—Khmer Rouge Head of State Khieu Samphan, Brother Number 2 Nuon Chea and Khmer Rouge Foreign Minister Ieng Sary—only Khieu Samphan, 81, has stayed relatively healthy, although he collapsed at his Pailin home on the eve of his November 2007 arrest, and was hospitalized in May 2008 with high blood pressure.
In September, Ieng Sary, 88, was admitted to the Khmer-Soviet Friendship Hospital, suffering from dizziness and fatigue. Doctors surmised that one of his collarbones was putting pressure on a vein, restricting blood flow to his head. After a two-month stay, he was released and ultimately declared by the Trial Chamber as fit to stand trial.
Today, Nuon Chea’s legal team will meet with him and keep the Trial Chamber updated on their client’s progress.
Over the next few months, some key expert witnesses—journalists Elizabeth Becker and Philip Short as well as historian Stephen Heder—are set to appear before the tribunal, and it is unlikely that any of the remaining defendants would waive their right to be present for such testimony.
But Panhavuth Long, a program officer for Cambodian Justice Initiative, which is part of the George Soros-funded Open Society Justice Initiative, said it is “very important” that the co-accused are present.
He also said that while the age of the defendants means such interruptions to proceedings are expected, it might be time for the Trial Chamber to consider severing the case, starting with the defendant who has had the most health problems.
“I think it’s very much a reality and could happen and we as monitors anticipate that the court would issue a severance order to separate Ieng Sary,” he said.
A severance of Ieng Sary from Case 002 would mean that Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan would continue being tried together, while Ieng Sary would be tried separately and any evidence relevant to him that has already been heard would be transferred to his own case.
“I would say that this is not a case that is unexpected to have delays. Especially in the case of the ECCC, where the accused are old and the health situation is fragile. It’s likely that it may affect the proceedings and delay the proceedings because of health situation,” Mr. Long said.