Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Breaking silence on forced marriage

Breaking silence on forced marriage

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
A survivor from Kampot province opens up about her experience of forced marriage, rape and pregnancy during the Khmer Rouge. A new documentary, Breaking the Silence, features women finally speaking out in the face of enduring stigma. Khmer Mekong Films Cambodia

Breaking silence on forced marriage

Mom Vun speaks not for the camera, but to a courtroom: “This was unforgettable humiliation,” she says. “I will never forget what happened that night.” One of an estimated 250,000 Cambodian men and women, Vun was forced into marriage under the Khmer Rouge regime, in what is alleged to have been a state-sponsored program designed to bolster the population. Instead, it resulted in countless cases of rape.

The issue of forced marriage and rape came before the Khmer Rouge tribunal last year, grabbing international headlines. It’s the subject of Breaking the Silence, a 50-minute documentary funded by the British Embassy and due to premiere in Phnom Penh tonight.

Here's the trailer:

The reason the topic was catapulted to the world stage is, in part, because for so long it had remained forgotten – even ignored, suggests David Cohen, the director of the Handa Centre for Human Rights and International Justice at Stanford University.

A second reason, he suggests, is that sexual violence is pervasive in conflicts dotted across the world, although the crime of forced marriage is less common. “Sexual violence has to be seen as an inevitable, unfortunate consequence of mass atrocity and armed conflicts wherever they occur,” he told The Post.

This, for many victims who had nursed their shame in silence, can be a bitter pill to swallow. The film explores how, after decades of secrecy, victims who come forward will not see their rapists brought to justice before the Khmer Rouge tribunal – an impossibility given the sheer number of victims and perpetrators.

The film opens with historic shots of labour camps and enthused communist chanting, before homing in on the “hidden dimension of that suffering”: sexual violence.

It switches to an idyllic palette of greens and blues, in Kampot province. One survivor of the regime, her name withheld, explains how she was lined up, paired off and married by Khmer Rouge cadres. She split from her husband after the fall of the regime; their daughter, now grown, does not know if her father is alive.

Couples were monitored, forcing them to consummate. Victims recount their stories, revealing a traumatic pattern, as lawyers and experts weigh in on how such crimes could happen.

The documentary doesn’t shy away from the criticisms the court received, notably about the length of time it took to address the crimes of sexual violence – a full decade after the multinational court was established to try senior members of the Khmer Rouge.

But it does leave out crucial voices, like those of the defendants and their lawyers. The documentary essentially removes the two former senior leaders – Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan – from the picture, and instead focuses on the lived experience of survivors, as well as artistic programs outside the courtroom designed to help victims heal.

The film also draws a thread between the sexual violence of the past, and a “culture of impunity” surrounding rape and domestic violence in modern-day Cambodia.

It closes with words from First They Killed My Father director Angelina Jolie, who praises the victims for braving the stigma and speaking out. “I believe they are heroes to us all,” she says in the documentary.

“It is simply unacceptable that crimes against women and girls happen with impunity and are still treated as a lesser crime.”

The public screening will take place tonight at 6pm at the Kravan Hotel on Street 228. The screening will be followed by a short question and answer session. To reserve
a place for tonight’s screening, contact [email protected].

MOST VIEWED

  • Website advises travellers to stay clear of Angkor Wat

    An Australian website has advised travellers to avoid Angkor Wat during their trip to Southeast Asia because the ancient temple is showing signs of rapid erosion and faced water management issues. In a recent article entitled Best places to go in 2020: 12 destinations you should avoid

  • First deportees of the year touch down in Cambodia

    Twenty-five Cambodian-Americans landed in Phnom Penh on Wednesday, marking the first such deportations of the year. “On Wednesday, US law enforcement authorities deported 25 Cambodian nationals that immigration judges determined had no legal basis to remain in the US,” said Arend Zwartjes, spokesperson for the US

  • Passenger taxi boat ridership sinks despite free services

    Passenger taxi boat traffic has dropped by about five per cent compared to the same period last year, despite the government providing free service for garment workers until next year, Phnom Penh Autonomous Bus Transportation Authority director Ean Sokhim said on Monday. In 2018, the Phnom

  • Shipments of mango to South Korea poised to begin this week

    Exports of Cambodian mangoes to South Korea will begin this week after Korean authorities gave the nod. The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries’ Department of Plant Protection, Sanitary and Phytosanitary Requirements director Ker Monthivuth told The Post on Sunday that after several inspections of

  • Kingdom drafting new law to strengthen immigration

    The Ministry of Interior on Tuesday said it had formed a working group to draft amendments to the Law on Immigration. Its secretary of state Sok Phal told The Post that the amendments will strengthen the management of immigrants in line with the current situation.

  • Qatar Airways to connect Doha and Siem Reap town

    Qatar Airways Company QCSC has announced a new route connecting Qatar’s capital Doha with Siem Reap, a move hailed by local officials as a significant step to boost tourist numbers. A Qatar Airways representative, speaking at the Kuwait Aviation Show, announced on Thursday that