Under questioning from co-prosecutors yesterday, expert witness Kasumi Nakagawa painted a vivid picture of how marriage and family life in Cambodia changed – for men as well as women – under the Khmer Rouge regime’s alleged policy of forced marriage.
Nakagawa, a Japanese academic who interviewed hundreds of survivors of the Democratic Kampuchea regime, has written three books on gender-based violence during that period.
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.
“There was no safety net at all for both men and women during the Khmer Rouge time,” Nakagawa said. “An individual was separated from the family, daughters and sons removed from their parents.”
Responding to questions about marriage traditions before the Khmer Rouge, Nakagawa described a society in which arranged marriages were the norm, but in which the state had no influence over marriage practices.
“In the process of the marriage, the parents of both parties engaged actively, more than their son or daughter, because it was a very important duty of the parents to arrange . . . the marriage,” Nakagawa explained.
But everything changed under the Khmer Rouge. Instead of a traditional three-day wedding, the celebration was a short, austere affair, often carried out in a group with the blessing of Angkar. Marrying without a parent’s consent was traumatic for many women, Nakagawa explained.
“The women were very sad and regretted that their parents were not there, and they carry that remorse until now,” she said. Many women also expressed sadness over celebrating their weddings without traditional food and dress.
Men, Nakagawa added, were also negatively impacted by the destruction of traditional family structures.
“The younger men missed their mothers so much. I was very moved when I met with elderly men who repeatedly told me that they missed their mothers, and who tried to see their mothers by risking their lives,” she said.
Echoing the stories of previous witnesses, Nakagawa documented stories of spies being sent to ensure couples consummated their marriages. The pressure to consummate the marriage disproportionately impacted men, Nakagawa said.
“The men were forced to rape their wives,” she said. “Forcing a man to rape somebody is an inhuman act, and not all men could do it. But the fear of failing was immeasurable.”