Out of fear for her life, Soy Naroeun gave the Khmer Rouge what was most important to her: her body.
“As a Khmer woman, nothing is more important than our body,” civil party Naroeun explained in a victim impact statement delivered before the Khmer Rouge tribunal yesterday.
“I felt I had to give my body to my husband in order to fulfill the requirements of Angkar,” she added, referring to the all-seeing Khmer Rouge “organisation”.
The tribunal is currently hearing testimony on charges of forced marriage against former Khmer Rouge leaders Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea. Numerous women have taken the stand over the past several months to tell their stories.
In Naroeun’s case, her forced marriage was preceded by forced labour and near starvation. “I was separated from my family and assigned to clear the forest in order to make new villages,” Naroeun said, adding that there were around 20 to 30 women in her mobile unit assigned to do such work.
“We were not given enough or good equipment to cut the trees, and the trees were big. It was so difficult to cut them down, the working conditions were terrible, the living conditions were terrible.”
Naroeun said it was especially difficult for the women, because they were not given anything to assist them when menstruating. Each unit of 20 or 30 women was forced to subsist on just 10 small tins of rice each day.
“We did not even have good shelter [in which] to live,” she said. “I was fearful of wild animals . . . every time we slept, we always felt fearful.”
But one day, Naroeun was called to an assembly meeting and asked to wear a skirt. When she arrived, she saw men and women sitting in separate rows. Soon, couples were called to commit themselves in marriage, and Naroeun was gripped with terror.
Before long, it was her turn to marry a stranger.
“I did not know anything about the background of my husband, whether he was a kind person or a brutal person,” she said. “We were paired up the way they pair up animals.”
Makeshift shelters were built to house each couple that night, and soldiers patrolled the area, she explained. Looking through the shelter wall, Narouen saw soldiers take several of the couples away and then return without them.
“Although my body was trembling, I agreed to give my body to my husband, because I saw the military men walking back and forth,” she said.