Witness tells Khmer Rouge tribunal of forced marriage

PHNOM PENH – Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge tribunal has begun exploring a central theme of the mammoth trial, with a new witness questioned Thursday about her experience of “forced marriage.”

Along with genocide, purges and rape, elderly defendants Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan are alleged to have been instrumental in creating a policy that saw people -- sometimes complete strangers -- forced to marry each other.

Cheang Srei Mom took the stand in court Thursday to be questioned by the prosecution, civil party lawyers and judges about her life at a cooperative.

She told the U.N.-backed court that she was initially placed in the women’s unit and tasked with caring for children.

However, she said, she was considered by the Khmer Rouge soldiers to have been too closely linked to the previous Lon Nol regime -- which the ultra-Maoists overthrew — and removed from the unit.

After her father was killed without her knowledge, she received a letter summoning her to the commune office.

“I was removed from my unit, so that I could be matched with my husband’s name, Try Touch,” she said.

Referring to the name by which the Khmer Rouge regime’s upper echelons were known, she added, “The unit chief told me I had to be prepared because Angkar would ask me to make a resolution that night.”

Unaware of her father’s murder two days before, Srei Mom said she could only go through with it with her parents’ approval.

“Then I was asked if I was the daughter of Angkar or my parents, so I had to say I was the daughter of Angkar,” she said, which pointed to one of the main aims of the regime -- breaking families apart.

The matrimonial ceremony itself took place in another room, presided over by the unit and commune chiefs, where bride and groom had to swear they had not been forced or coerced into the marriage.

She was 24 at the time.

“I didn’t marry voluntarily, but I had to agree to the request. If I refused, I would also disappear, so I submitted myself,” she said.

“I felt remorse, because I did not love this man. I hated him, plainly speaking.”

Her new husband, too, was struggling. He had been in love with another woman, but was forbidden from marrying her because she came from a different background.

It was a loveless, traumatic start.

The distress was intensified when the newlyweds were made to live together with a “militiaman” keeping watch below their home.

Srei Mom read this to be a not-so-subtle threat for the marriage to be consummated, and she testified that she had assumed she would be killed if she did not submit further.

“I slept with my husband that night. I had to — I was in danger if I did not, because the militiaman was watching. I submitted myself, I could not avoid it."

"After a short while, I adapted to the situation and we have lived as husband and wife until now,” she said.

Their first daughter was born in early 1979, the same year the regime was toppled by Vietnamese troops.

Former Khmer Rouge head of state Samphan, 83, and "Brother Number 2" Chea, 88, were sentenced to life in prison in August in the trial’s first phase, accused of crimes against humanity in connection with their role in mass evacuations.

Earlier this month, witnesses provided shocking testimony on cannibalism, executions and torture at prisons under the regime, whose four-year reign saw around 1.7 million people – including Cambodian Muslims and Buddhists -- killed through execution, starvation and overwork.

Copyright © 2015 Anadolu Agency