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

  • Cambodia to waive quarantine requirements Nov 15, no PCR test required

    Prime Minister Hun Sen has decided to lift all quarantine requirements for fully vaccinated travellers and visitors – both Cambodians and foreign nationals – effective from November 15 onward. In a special message addressed to officials and relevant authorities on November 14, Hun Sen said this policy will enable

  • PM: No more quarantine for vaccinated travellers

    Cambodia is lifting all quarantine requirements for vaccinated inbound travellers entering Cambodia by air, waterway or land border checkpoints effective from November 15. Travellers will be required to take a rapid antigen test on arrival rather than waiting for the results of the lengthier polymerase chain

  • No payment required for travellers taking rapid Covid tests on arrival

    Ministry of Health officials said there would be no payment required for the rapid Covid-19 tests given to travellers who arrive in Cambodia from November 15 onwards after the quarantine requirement is lifted for fully vaccinated people. Health ministry spokeswoman Or Vandine told The Post on

  • General’s gun smuggling ring busted

    The Military Police sent six military officers to court on November 22 to face prosecution for possession of 105 illegal rifles and arms smuggling, while investigators say they are still hunting down additional accomplices. Sao Sokha, deputy commander of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces and commander of

  • More Cambodians studying in US

    The number of Cambodian students studying at US colleges and universities in 2020-21 increased by 14.3 per cent over the previous year despite the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a recent US government report. The 2021 Open Doors report on International Educational Exchange showed that 848 Cambodian students studied

  • Cambodia, Thailand to discuss border reopening

    Cambodian authorities from provinces along the Cambodia-Thailand border will meet with Thai counterparts to discuss reopening border checkpoints to facilitate travel, transfer of products and cross-border trade between the two countries. Banteay Meanchey provincial deputy governor Ly Sary said on November 22 that the provincial administration