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After Court Release, Questions Remains Over Ieng Thirith’s Health Care

In this photo taken on Oct. 19, 2011 released by the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, Ieng Thirith smiles during a hearing in Phnom Penh.

The former “First Lady” of the Khmer Rouge is thought to have Alzheimer’s disease.

WASHINGTON DC - With former Khmer Rouge leader Ieng Thirith now released from custody at the UN-backed tribunal, questions remain over who will pay her for her ongoing medical needs.

Ieng Thirith was found mentally unfit to stand trial at the court and handed over to her family on Sunday. She was ordered to surrender her passport and travel documents, leaving her to find health care in Cambodia, where most hospitals are far below the standards of neighboring countries.

The former “First Lady” of the Khmer Rouge is thought to have Alzheimer’s disease. She reportedly does not remember who her husband is, cannot recall important events from the past and has other physical health issues that need attention.

Civil party complainants at the court have said they are disappointed with Ieng Thirith’s release, but court observers say it was a necessary function of the court because of her deteriorating mental condition.

Seena Fazel, a medical expert for the tribunal, said it has been hard for for Ieng Thirith to have faked her condition. “It would be very difficult to feign the change in her personal hygiene, the urinary incontinence and her indifference to it,” he told the court.

The court has ordered periodic health check-ups and reserves the right to put her back on trial if she is found fit enough to take part in her own defense.

“If she is really sick, then she must be treated accordingly,” said Chhang Youk, head of the Documentation Center of Cambodia. “But where in Cambodia would meet the international standard? We don’t want to do to her what her regime did to us. When we had a headache, the Khmer Rouge doctors would say, ‘Cut off your head so you no longer have a headache.’”