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Forum ends on emotional note

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Women cry as they attend a non-judicial Asia-Pacific Regional Women’s Hearing on gender-based violence held in Phnom Penh on Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2012. Photograph: Heng Chivoan/Phnom Penh Post

Cambodia's second truth-telling forum into sexual and gender-based violence concluded with a rare personal story from Anti-Corruption Unit president Om Yentieng about the suffering of his sister under the Khmer Rouge.

“Under Pol Pot . . . many women did not cry, because they would be punished . . . When the militiamen arrested [my sister’s] husband, they cut him open and took out his liver. She was not allowed to cry,” he told an audience of survivors and observers.

“When she was killed, they cut open her abdomen as well. The pain and suffering of many women – even when we speak of them [years later] it brings tears.”

The minister, who is president of the Cambodian Human Rights Committee, officially marked the end of the second and final day of the emotionally charged hearings, which included the testimony of women from Cambodia, Bangladesh, Nepal and East Timor.

Organisers said the government’s interest in the hearing was good news, given the scant attention it paid last year’s inaugural forum, which focused on sexual violence under the Khmer Rouge.

“It’s a positive thing if it leads to some reparations and if it links past violence to violence now,” Theresa de Langis, one of the organisers, said.

Organisers said that by opening this year’s forum to women from other countries, they hoped to build international momentum, including discussions on what “justice” outside a judicial system could look like.

Cambodian Defenders Project director Sok Sam Ouen used Yentieng’s appearance yesterday to call for more funding to prosecute sex crimes.

“While our senior minister is here, I would like to see the government establish forensic laboratories . . . Otherwise, there is a lack of evidence.”

At the close of the hearing, participants also called on the government to consider a number of recommendations including reparations for victims of sexual violence under the Khmer Rouge, creating a system of non-judicial hearings and improving psychological support for rape victims.  

Asked whether he would take Sam Ouen’s message, or the recommendations of the hearing, to the government, Yentieng said the tenor of both comments was already in line with government policy.

To contact the reporter on this story: Rosa Ellen at newsroom@phnompenhpost.com

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