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Files focus on forced marriages under Khmer Rouge

Then-Prince Norodom Sihanouk (right) attends a meeting with Khieu Samphan (left), Ieng Sary (far left) and other cadres in 1973. AFP
Then-Prince Norodom Sihanouk (right) attends a meeting with Khieu Samphan (left), Ieng Sary (far left) and other cadres in 1973. AFP

Files focus on forced marriages under Khmer Rouge

The Khmer Rouge “twisted” marriage to increase their revolutionary population, in effect legitimising rape, according to key documents presented at the Khmer Rouge tribunal yesterday.

The prosecution drew on statements and speeches by Khmer Rouge leaders Pol Pot and Ieng Sary – a defendant in Case 002 until his death in 2013 – to argue forced marriage took place in the context of a concerted campaign to more than double the population from 8 million to 20 million in 10 years.

Among the evidence presented yesterday were the resurrected words of the late King Norodom Sihanouk who, despite having aligned himself with the regime, during provincial travels with Case 002 co-defendant and former head of state Khieu Samphan, contemplated the “horrors” of the regime wedding young women to soldiers maimed in battle.

“My wife and I trembled at the idea of such marriages. The Frankenstein of the films of horror could not have imagined such monstrosity,” prosecutor Vincent de Wilde read of Sihanouk’s observations. “Certainly the authentic heroes [who] were physically diminished deserved all our respect and all our compassion, but to accept the . . . idea of sacrificing gentle virgins . . . on the altar of such a form of patriotism, there is a gap that our spirit cannot fill.”

Samphan, Sihanouk said, maintained that the unions weren’t “forced”, but rather the young women possessed a “heightened patriotic spirit” and accepted their marriages to take care of war heroes.

The prosecution also pointed out fellow co-defendant Nuon Chea’s own marriage was made for revolutionary, rather than personal, ends.

A snippet from the 2012 documentary Red Wedding was screened during the hearing, with Pol Pot’s speech overlaid with footage from Khmer Rouge propaganda videos. “We’re still far from the potential of our country . . . Our goal is to increase the number of people as soon as possible,” the subtitles read.

Reproduction was a primary purpose of marriages arranged by the regime, according to a report by Bridgette Toy-Cronin about sexual violence in Democratic Kampuchea. “Forced sex was a necessary part of the marriage . . . even those who did not experience violence felt pressure to have sex with their spouses,” she wrote.

“Forced marriage was used to legitim[ise] rape.”

Referring to the work of journalist Elizabeth Becker, the prosecution pointed out the contradictions in the regime’s repopulation policy.

“The Khmer Rouge were schizophrenic about sex and procreation,” Becker wrote, highlighting that sex outside of marriage was punishable by death. And at the same time, the regime sought to rapidly increase their revolutionary ranks, she noted, “The birth rate dropped dramatically.”

“Many women stopped menstruating entirely, partly because of malnutrition, partly because of the trauma.”

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