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

  • Hungarian exposes 90 to Covid in Siem Reap

    The Ministry of Health has discovered 90 people who have been exposed directly or indirectly to a Hungarian man infected with Covid-19. They all are required to quarantine at home and the hospital. The ministry is searching for other affected people. Among the 90, one is the

  • PM warns of ‘new Cold War’

    Prime Minister Hun Sen said the possibility of a so-called new Cold War has become a significant concern and that all countries have to reject outright, any attempt to allow history to tragically repeat itself. He made the remarks in a speech during 75th Session

  • PM: West unfair to Cambodia

    Prime Minister Hun Sen released a message celebrating the International Day of Peace on Monday, saying that some major powers and western countries had been systemically cooperating to put political pressure on Cambodia as they did in the 1970s and 1980s. Hun Sen said pressuring

  • ‘Bad news is an investor’s best friend’ – unlocking investment potential in Cambodia

    It is time to shop. Economic woes provide good pickings for investors if they know where to look The poem If, written by English Nobel laureate poet and novelist Rudyard Kipling for his son circa 1895, is widely perceived as fatherly advice for John who would

  • Cambodia, CRF win rice battle in EU Court

    The European General Court has rejected the European Commission’s (EC) request to reject a complaint submitted by Cambodia and the Cambodian Rice Federation (CRF) regarding the EU’s reintroduction of tariffs on Indica rice exports from Cambodia. A court order uploaded to the European

  • PM requests Russia’s Covid vaccine

    Prime Minister Hun Sen has requested that Russia provide Cambodia with its Covid-19 vaccine after the former announced it planned on mass vaccinating its population next month. The request came on Thursday through the prime minister’s Facebook page as he met with Anatoly Borovik,