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Civil parties challenge expert witness over forced marriage

Expert witness Peg LeVine gives testimony on Monday at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia during Case 002/02. ECCC
Expert witness Peg LeVine gives testimony on Monday at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia during Case 002/02. ECCC

Civil parties challenge expert witness over forced marriage

Expert witness Peg LeVine concluded her testimony yesterday by arguing that any policy of forced marriage under the Khmer Rouge was “chaotic” and “inconsistent”, and was only beginning to solidify into something more concrete when the regime was toppled.

Challenging widely held convention, LeVine had testified over the previous two days that none of the 192 people she interviewed in the course of her research into marriage under the regime had been forced to marry – despite excerpts from her work that appeared to acknowledge the coercive nature of some of the unions. She also testified, as the defence has long argued, that there was no evidence of a wider national policy of forced marriage that could be linked to co-defendants Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan.

However, civil party lead co-lawyer Marie Guiraud challenged LeVine’s assertion that marriage policies were localised on the basis of her previous claims that such weddings were a national service.

“Conscripted weddings became part of one’s duty to country to propagate, literally, the communist state,” Guiraud read, quoting LeVine’s book.

“So this conscription was a state policy?” Guiraud asked.“I can’t say for sure,” LeVine answered, explaining that the weddings were carried out in an inconsistent manner that depended on local authorities.

“I don’t question the integrity of civil party testimony,” she added, referring to the numerous civil parties who have recently testified before the court that they had been forced to marry under threat of death.

LeVine also testified that although there was a very high baseline of fear across the entire nation, local authorities “cushioned or exacerbated” this fear based on individual actions.

She also argued that the concept of the omnipresent “Angkar” – the shadowy designation, meaning “the Organisation”, by which the Khmer Rouge regime was known – became a cultural phenomenon outside of the control of the regime, rather than a tool at its disposal.

“This is a cultural artefact the Khmer Rouge did not and could not have accounted for,” she said.

After the conclusion of LeVine’s testimony, civil party Pen Sochan took the stand, testifying to being forced to marry at age 15 or 16 under threat of execution.

On the third night of her marriage, Sochan testified, she was told that if she did not consummate the union, she would be killed. When she still refused, militiamen tied her up and her husband raped her. “I was bleeding for more than one month,” Sochan said.

Sochan was the subject of the 2012 documentary Red Wedding, clips of which were shown in an attempt to establish that there was a process of state-level orders being carried out by local authorities.

In the film, Sochan spoke with her former unit chief, Om, who had forced her to marry. Om said she had gotten her orders from a higher-up, Oeun, who told Sochan he had received the orders from the district chief, Roem. Roem, in turn, told her she got the orders from the late Ta Mok, a notorious top party leader.

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