As a part of their brutal experiment to create a totally homogenous Cambodian society, the Khmer Rouge targeted ethnic minorities for sexual violence and forced intermarriage, at least partly in an effort to breed them out of existence, a new report released yesterday maintains.
Sexual violence under the Khmer Rouge has been well-documented, and the issue of forced marriage is due to receive attention in upcoming Case 002/02 at the Khmer Rouge tribunal. But Rochelle Braaf, the author of Sexual Violence Against Ethnic Minorities During the Khmer Rouge Regime, said yesterday that research focusing specifically on minorities was lacking.
Her findings, the product of interviews with 105 ethnic minority survivors of the period, show that while the abuses suffered by minorities bore many similarities to those inflicted on the general population, there were also important distinctions.
Some minority women were singled out for rape while ethnic Khmers weren’t, multiple respondents, including a Kampuchea Krom woman, said. And when minorities were targeted for purges, their women were typically singled out for rape first, according to respondents.
“These young women were Kampuchea Krom,” a different Khmer Krom respondent said. “There were about 400-500 women who lived with me. All of them were taken out to be killed within three days. I saw many women were taken from my working unit somewhere and then they were all raped before being killed.”
While forced marriage between the rural poor and the so-called “new people” – those perceived to come from the urban bourgeoisie – have been documented, the practice took on a tinge of ethnic cleansing when it came to the forced intermarriage of groups like the Cham, who practise Islam, with ethnic Khmers.
“It would certainly appear that they were very keen to expunge anyone” practising religion, Braaf said yesterday. “Certainly, from the documents we read and conversations we had with people in the communities, it seems they wanted to breed out those communities.”
Testimony from some of Braaf’s interviewees seems to bear this conclusion out. “During that period, they forced us not to marry with Cham, when we are Cham,” one respondent is quoted as saying.
According to the woman, cadres told her she “need[ed] to have a Khmer” husband, and that under Democratic Kampuchea “all people are Khmer”.
Court prosecutor Nicholas Koumjian, who attended the launch of the report, declined to comment on how the prosecution would approach the charge of forced marriage in Case 002/02, but agreed with Braaf’s assertion that the practice could, theoretically speaking, constitute genocide – another charge slated to be heard in the upcoming case.
“If you’re preventing births [among an ethnic group], then, yes, that’s a form of genocide,” he said. “And one way of preventing births is impregnating women [by men] from outside the ethnic group.”