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Expert witness Kasumi Nakagawa holds a copy of her book on Tuesday as she gives her testimony at the ECCC in Phnom Penh. ECCC
Expert witness Kasumi Nakagawa holds a copy of her book on Tuesday as she gives her testimony at the ECCC in Phnom Penh. ECCC

Proof of central policy on marriage not clear: expert

Japanese academic Kasumi Nakagawa returned to the stand at the Khmer Rouge tribunal yesterday, again testifying to the deep cultural impact of forced marriages under the Democratic Kampuchea regime, but stopping short of confirming that there was a national policy of forced marriage at that time.

The tribunal is currently hearing testimony on charges of forced marriage against Khmer Rouge leaders Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea, though defence teams have long argued that there is not enough evidence to prove the defendants are directly responsible for the state-arranged unions into which thousands were pressed.

When asked, Nakagawa – who headed a study that interviewed over a thousand Khmer Rouge survivors – admitted that Cambodian society was deeply patriarchal long before the Khmer Rouge.

Prior to the regime, almost all marriages were proposed by parents or other relatives with no input from the bride and little regard for the concept of love. “My understanding is that if a woman could have genuine love for her husband, then it was good luck, because love does not come automatically with a marriage,” she said.

But, Nakagawa drew a firm line between arranged marriages and forced marriages.

She said young women accepted parents’ marriage proposals “because they trusted them, as an act of respect, and to show gratitude”.

By comparison, she said Khmer Rouge marriages were accepted “under extreme fear”.

Nakagawa also said rape within forced marriages was not recognised as rape, but presented as the “duty and responsibility” of a married couple. On Tuesday, Nakagawa equated forced marriage to “legalised rape”.

However, Nakagawa said her study did not find conclusive proof that Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan were personally responsible for these crimes. “I cannot find evidence of a centralised policy forcing women into marriage,” she said.

Nakagawa also spoke yesterday about the way Khmer Rouge-era forced marriages continue to shape Cambodian society today. “Husbands and fathers suffered a lot during the Khmer Rouge because they could not provide any protection for their families,” Nakagawa said.

This failure was emasculating by traditional Cambodian standards, and Nakagawa said it has had a persistent psychological effect.

What’s more, she noted, the rate of domestic violence in families that were forced together during the Khmer Rouge era is much higher than other families.

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