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Conventional wisdom on KR marriages questioned

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

Conventional wisdom on KR marriages questioned

Expert witness Peg LeVine took the stand at the Khmer Rouge tribunal yesterday, arguing against the widely repeated accusation that many marriages during the regime were forced, and referring to studies that came to that conclusion as “biased”.

The tribunal is currently hearing testimony on charges of forced marriage against former Khmer Rouge leaders Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea. LeVine, who is an anthropologist and permanent research affiliate at the Centre for Advanced Genocide Studies, said she was first inspired to delve deeper into the marriage situation after meeting a couple that denied being forced to marry.

“They described their weddings as being real,” she said in reference to this couple and other interview subjects. LeVine said the subject of forced marriage has long been a “heated topic that became emotional”, leading other studies of the subject to be biased.

In her own research, however, she tried to “track data that led to an outcome”, rather than finding data to fit a predetermined conclusion. As a result, she said, she was unable to find a single unbiased study that supported the conclusion that the marriages were forced.

“I did not conduct my research as a witch hunt,” she said at one point.

Defence attorney Anta Guisse read a quote from LeVine’s book in which she wrote “social pressure to describe the Khmer Rouge marriages as forced has been unyielding”.

“This is a complex topic and classifying Khmer Rouge weddings as forced in a country where arranged marriages are common is perhaps misleading,” Guisse quoted.

The defence teams have long argued there is a lack of evidence directly linking the defendants as national leaders to local marriage policies, and LeVine also testified that the nature of marriages during the Khmer Rouge was dependent on local authorities. LeVine did, however, acknowledge that the tradition of Khmer marriages was warped under the regime.

“There was a profound loss of access to tradition,” she said. The tribunal in recent weeks has heard from numerous witnesses and civil parties who testified to being forced to marry, and even consummate their weddings under threat of execution.

LeVine’s study found that approximately 40 percent of 192 couples reported being instructed to consummate their marriages, with only 9 percent reporting complying, and not a single person reporting being threatened with death.

“I tried not to even ask the question of whether or not they were forced, but I did come to the conclusion that they were not,” she said.

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