Court hears horror of Khmer Rouge forced marriages

Cambodia`s UN-backed court on Tuesday heard harrowing new details about the Khmer Rouge`s forced marriages, one of the brutal regime`s less reported atrocities.

AFP| Last Updated: Aug 23, 2016, 16:27 PM IST

Phnom Penh: Cambodia`s UN-backed court on Tuesday heard harrowing new details about the Khmer Rouge`s forced marriages, one of the brutal regime`s less reported atrocities.

The Khmer Rouge oversaw the deaths of up to two million Cambodians from 1975-1979 -- nearly one-quarter of the population -- in their quest for a Marxist agrarian utopia.

But the testimony is the first time the court has heard about the tens of thousands of couples who were forced to marry, often in mass ceremonies, as part of a Khmer Rouge plan to boost the population.

One woman described being raped by a Khmer Rouge commander after she was threatened with execution for refusing to consummate a forced marriage to her husband.

The regime`s two most senior surviving leaders, "Brother Number Two" Nuon Chea, 90, and former head of state Khieu Samphan, 85, are on trial.

They have already been convicted of crimes against humanity, but a second trial is investigating their alleged complicity in the mass murder of Cambodia`s ethnic minorities, forced marriages and mass rape -- subjects that remain taboo in conservative Cambodia even today.

Rights groups and historians say the second trial is a significant step for victims of Khmer Rouge sexual violence.

The woman, now elderly, appeared in court wearing a dark suit.

Identified only by a court pseudonym she described being forced to marry a fighter twenty years her senior in a joyless mass ceremony in early 1978.

Those who refused simply disappeared or were killed, she told the court, including her cousin.

"They forced us to marry," she said.

She detailed how a commander raped and threatened to shoot her if she didn`t consummate the marriage and she later gave birth to a daughter.

The pair became separated in the turmoil of Cambodia`s civil war years but she later went back to her husband under societal pressure, she said.

"I never told such a story to anyone, but now it is time for me to speak out," she added.

Another male born transgender victim described being forced to marry a woman.

After the ceremony, Khmer Rouge soldiers would spy on the couples.

"We had to have sex to survive," the 75-year-old told the court, adding that her wife became pregnant.

Youk Chhang, director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia, said more research is needed on the mass rape and forced marriages carried out under the regime.

"Rape took place within those forced marriages. There still needs to be an investigation about how widespread it was, but the issue is very sensitive in Khmer culture," he said.

The current trial is expected to conclude later this year, with a judgement to follow by the end of 2017.