The Khmer Rouge’s forced evacuation of Phnom Penh in 1975 and its fallout carried unique and at-times harsher consequences for women, a phenomenon that the Khmer Rouge tribunal missed a valuable opportunity to explore in Case 002/01, according to a new scholarly report.
In Recognition of Gendered Experiences of Harm at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia – published last week in the journal Feminist Legal Studies – author Diana Sankey argued the 2014 guilty verdict in Case 002/01 against former Khmer Rouge leaders silenced diverse gender experiences. “In some situations women may be disproportionately affected by particular harms,” Dr Sankey wrote.
Sankey pointed to how the prevalence of traditional gender roles at the time – including women caring for their elderly relatives and feeding their children – could see women experience things like family separation and the starvation of children, both common in the aftermath of Phnom Penh’s fall, in a different way.
She said pregnant women were also particularly affected by the evacuation due to the journey’s inhumane conditions.
What’s more, she argues, “While the judgment drew quite extensively on Ms Sou Sotheavy’s testimony … it silenced her transgender identity and ignored the particular harms she voiced as a transgender woman.”
While the article acknowledges that more commonly discussed forms of gendered harm, such as forced marriage, would be addressed in the current Case 002/02, the court missed the opportunity to address gendered suffering in the 002/01 judgment – a critique she claimed was broadly emblematic of international criminal law.
“Even when survivors are permitted to testify as civil parties and where women constitute the majority of these civil parties, courts may still not fully hear and reflect the complexities of harms,” Dr Sankey wrote.
Duong Savorn, professor of gender studies at Pannasastra University, said some factors – including a mother’s love for her children – could have affected women more profoundly when families were torn apart.
He said he was also disappointed the violence suffered by transgender victims had not yet been included in the tribunal’s agenda.
“The Khmer Rouge talked to men and women about equal rights in their propaganda, but actually, they treated women badly,” he said, but added it was promising that forced marriage would be addressed in the second part of Case 002.