The only female Khmer Rouge leader charged with genocide at Cambodia's UN-backed war crimes court has dementia and should not have to go on trial, her lawyer said Thursday.
"Ieng Thirith is unfit to stand trial and the proceedings against her should be discontinued," said Diana Ellis after medical experts told the court that the 79-year-old suffers from memory loss and probably has Alzheimer's disease.
The former social affairs minister would have "considerable difficulty" following the legal proceedings against her, one of the court-appointed doctors said during a public hearing on her mental fitness.
Alongside three other senior regime members - including her husband Ieng Sary - the elderly woman faces charges of war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity over the deaths of up to two million people in the late 1970s.
Amid fears that not all of the accused, aged 79 to 85, will live to see a verdict, the court last month divided their complex case into a series of smaller trials to speed up proceedings.
The first trial will focus on the forced movement of population and the related charges of crimes against humanity. It is scheduled to hear opening statements on November 21.
To avoid more delays, the defence teams for Ieng Thirith, Ieng Sary and "Brother Number Two" Nuon Chea said on Thursday they would be in favour of separating the ailing woman's case from the others.
This would allow the court to ponder her fitness while moving forward with the long-awaited trial against the remaining three.
Prosecutors argued against such a move, saying her presence was "vital" to court proceedings.
The fourth accused, one-time head of state Khieu Samphan, chose not to take part in the two-day fitness hearing.
Questions have long been raised over the mental state of the regime's "First Lady", who famously lost her cool during a 2009 court appearance, telling her accusers they would be "cursed to the seventh circle of hell".
The report by four psychiatric experts presented this week largely confirmed the findings of a geriatrics specialist who told judges in August that Ieng Thirith's memory impairment could affect her fair trial rights.
Led by "Brother Number One" Pol Pot, who died in 1998, the Khmer Rouge wiped out nearly a quarter of the population through starvation, overwork or execution in a bid to create an agrarian utopia.
In its historic first case, the tribunal sentenced former prison chief Kaing Guek Eav to 30 years in jail last year for overseeing the deaths of 15,000 people. The case is now under appeal.