Civil party Sa Lay Hieng, a former Khmer Rouge cadre, took the stand yesterday to testify about her forced marriage and of how she later fell under the movement’s suspicion, painting a picture of a regime willing to turn its back on its most faithful adherents.
The tribunal is currently hearing testimony related to the charge of forced marriage in the ongoing case against Democratic Kampuchea leaders Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea, who are on trial for genocide and crimes against humanity.
“I joined the revolutionary movement in 1971,” Hieng said. “I was too young to analyse or understand the situation.”
Hieng, who was 21 at the time, was tasked with promoting communal living. Later the regime pressured her to marry.
“I refused several times when [local leaders] came to ask me [to get married], but finally the sector committee said that I was a stubborn person,” Hieng said.
She eventually decided it was too risky to keep refusing the committee’s overtures, and in 1976, out of fear, married a man she did not like.
One year later, just months after giving birth to their only child, her husband disappeared. The regime had deemed him a traitor working to sabotage the revolution after a bridge he was building collapsed.
“Despite the fact that I didn’t love him, we lived together and provided warmth for one another, and so I was in shock to lose him,” she said.
Her husband never reappeared, and she later learned he’d been sentenced to death. His designation as a traitor meant that Hieng lost her prominent position in the cooperative, and she and her baby, who died, were left to waste away from poor rations and overwork.
“The food we were given at the cooperative wasn’t sufficient, and I was skinny and grew sick and didn’t have enough milk to feed my baby,” Hieng said. “Everything we contributed earlier to the revolution and to liberating the country, those contributions were now lost.”
While Hieng was working in a labour camp for the wives of arrested men, she heard of cases of cannibalism at a nearby security centre. “[People] told me they heard of incidents in which prisoners were killed and their gallbladders were removed and eaten by the Khmer Rouge cadres,” she said.
During the testimony, Hieng also provided details about the Khmer Rouge’s alleged policy towards ethnic Vietnamese citizens – part of the basis for the court’s charges of genocide. She said many were rounded up and sent to Vietnam between 1973 and 1974.
But “smashing” – or killing – ethnic Vietnamese became common after fighting between the Khmer Rouge and the Vietnamese army intensified. Hieng’s uncle was married to a Vietnamese woman, she said, and her aunt and cousins were killed by the regime.
“They were all collected and taken away,” Hieng said. “They were not spared.”