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Chea challenges forced-marriage claims

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Khmer Rouge Brother Number Two Nuon Chea during a trial hearing in Case 002 in 2012. ECCC

Chea challenges forced-marriage claims

Nuon Chea, the Khmer Rouge’s Brother Number Two, has asked to be acquitted of all crimes against humanity he faces, including the high-profile charges of genocide and forced marriage.

In a document obtained by The Post yesterday and due to be made public later this week, the former Khmer Rouge leader argues he did not have significant enough authority to be responsible for the crimes and labels the trial a “disheartening sham”.

The 550-page closing brief – which alleges judges’ bias, lying witnesses and Vietnamese infiltration – is a key insight into Chea’s thinking. The former communist leader has mostly kept silent during nearly two years of his trial, except for the occasional outburst about Vietnam.

The brief takes aim at one of the most internationally significant and emotionally charged elements of the trial: the topic of forced marriage, which, Chea’s defence argues, lacks legal backing and essentially puts Cambodia’s culture of “arranged marriage” on trial.

“The likely reason why the [Communist Party of Kampuchea’s] legitimate policies have been portrayed as inherently criminal is that the issue of sexual violence and particularly forced marriage has become the ‘hot topic’ in international criminal law,” the brief read.

“This Tribunal . . . must be equally tempted to carve its stone on the edifice of international criminal justice by being the first to enter a conviction for arranged marriage despite the inadequate evidentiary basis . . . Nonetheless, this is court of law, not a reality TV show chasing ratings.”

In heart-wrenching accounts last year, one victim of the regime, Sou Sotheavy, a transgender woman, told how she was forced to marry a woman and father a child. Another told how she was raped at gunpoint by her military commander after refusing to sleep with her stranger of a husband. For countless others, there was no need for a gun, as they were coerced by fear.

The Khmer Rouge marriage policy was based on mutual consent, the filing said, and a policy to grow the population to 15 million did not equate to forced marriage. Alleged monitoring of consummation was merely “rumours and speculation”.

The “only shred of evidence” against Chea, it continues, is an “unverifiable” quotation from Chea in the book Behind the Killing Fields, saying: “[T]he man always wants to choose beautiful girl, so that’s why we forced them to get married and Angkar, [The Organisation] chose the wife”.

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An undated photo of Nuon Chea speaking at an event. DC CAM

“[I]t is crystal clear that, based on the totality of the evidence, the only reasonable conclusion is that there was no consistent and systematic pattern of forced marriage,” the brief read.

Prosecution lawyer Nicholas Koumjian, however, said yesterday that there was evidence that forced marriages repeatedly occurred, which showed it was a policy and that leaders intended “to break down traditional family ties while growing the population”.

“Both cadre and forced marriage victims testified to the practice . . . In the coercive environment of [Democratic Kampuchea], where even breaking a spoon could result in execution, few dared to refuse,” he said.

The regime “treated the people like cattle and sought to control every aspect of their lives”, he said, adding that forced consummation was not a subject older Cambodians wanted to talk about.

“We are grateful and admire the courage of the many women and men who were victims of these crimes and testified in this case, answering questions about such intimate experiences. They had no reason to make this up,” Koumjian said.

Gender studies researcher Theresa de Langis, who has worked closely with victims of sexual violence under the regime, said the defence’s confusion of forced marriage with traditional Khmer arranged marriages was “fallacious on its face, and disputed by the brave men and women who testified to the contrary”.

“That includes Mon Vun, who heroically shared how Khmer Rouge actors held her down and used a flashlight to assist her assigned husband in raping her. That’s not rumour, but lived experience,” she said.

“Sexual violence under oppressive regimes is only now being treated for the heinous crime that it is, against individuals and entire communities. It deserves to be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.”

Kasumi Nakagawa, an expert summoned at the court, said while her research did not support a thesis that forced marriages were systematic nation-wide, nor an instruction from the top leaders, those leaders could still be considered responsible as they “ignored what was happening on the ground”.

“Top leaders forced local leaders to achieve the revolutionary goals by imposing impossible instructions, and marriage quotas or targets [were among] them,” she said.

Redacted closing briefs for the prosecution, civil parties and Khmer Rouge head of state Khieu Samphan’s legal team were delivered to the Khmer Rouge Trial chamber yesterday and are expected to be made public this week. Closing statements will take place in the courtroom next month.

Prosecution lawyer Dale Lysak said their 800-page brief would prove the Nuon Chea’s and Khieu Samphan’s “responsibility for murder, extermination, genocide, enslavement, forced marriage and other charged crimes” and said claims the prosecution had misled the trial chamber was an example of “misinformation and paranoia”.

He rejected Chea’s claim the prosecution had followed reductionist, pre-determined narratives about his guilt. “[T]he Nuon Chea team was the only party in the courtroom peddling ‘simplistic’ narratives,” he said.

“We believe that evidence consistently disproved the conspiracy theories and Khmer Rouge propaganda on which the Nuon Chea team chose to base their defence.”

The pair have already been convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment for other crimes in the first phase of their trial, while controversial cases against Meas Muth, Ao An and Yim Tith could be permanently shuttered at the end of June. A judgement for Chea and Samphan is expected by mid-2018.

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