Film shows brutality of Khmer Rouge's population policy | Connect Asia

Film shows brutality of Khmer Rouge's population policy

Film shows brutality of Khmer Rouge's population policy

Updated 19 March 2012, 19:00 AEDT

In 1978 during the final months of the Khmer Rouge's brutal rule of Cambodia, 16-year-old Pen Sochan was ordered to marry a man she had never met.

A new documentary traces her struggle to find answers to her plight, and comes as the trial of the movement's four senior surviving leaders is set to open later this month.

Among the many charges against them is that of forced marriage.

Presenter: Robert Carmichael

Speaker: Duong Savorn, Cambodian Defenders Project; Silke Studzinsky, lawyer for civil parties at the Khmer Rouge tribunal


CARMICHAEL: The voice you can hear is that of Pen Sochan, a 48-year-old Cambodian woman from a village in rural Pursat province in western Cambodia.

In this documentary called Red Wedding, Pen Sochan is talking about the secret that she has kept hidden for decades from her friends, her neighbours, even from her family.

When Pen Sochan was just 16 she was ordered to marry a Khmer Rouge soldier, a man who was a stranger to her. She has carried the burden of that time for three decades.

The documentary, which was shown for the first time this month, traces Pen Sochan's efforts to find out who in the local Khmer Rouge hierarchy, who still live nearby, ordered her to be married in 1978, and why. Despite her best efforts she fails in her quest.

But her courage in standing up, says the film's director Chan Lida, means that Pen Sochan succeeded in another, more profound way: She spoke publicly about a topic that affected tens of thousands of Cambodians during that time - the issue of forced marriage and rape in a society that has a very conservative attitude towards women and virginity.

Forced marriage is listed on the docket against the four senior Khmer Rouge leaders whose trial starts later this month at the UN-backed tribunal in Phnom Penh.

Duong Savorn, is the project coordinator of the Cambodian Defenders Project, a legal advise organisation. He runs the CDP's project which works on gender based violence and the khmer rouge tribubnal.

Duong Savorn explains that after the ceremony - a joyless affair for perhaps a half dozen couples - the newlyweds were sent off to consummate the marriage. Khmer Rouge cadres would stand nearby to ensure they did. The point, after all, was to boost the population.

SAVORN: Normally the victims in the forced marriage Khmer Rouge they just inform them a couple of hours or sometimes a couple of days sometimes they were called straight from the rice fields to married without notice in advance. They hadn't known about that couple before at all - both men and women. And after they married about a couple of hours they were assigned to live there as a couple. And during the first night or second night, the Khmer Rouge cadres surrounded them to make sure that they have sex with each other - they have to follow Angkar's orders otherwise they would be killed.

CARMICHAEL: In Pen Sochan's case her husband, whom she remembers as a cruel man, was told to rape her, and did.


CARMICHAEL: That is a recording used in the film of the late Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot telling the Cambodian people of the need to increase the population.

The purpose of forced marriage was to add to the pool of workers for the revolution. The resulting children, untainted by the previous regime, belonged not to their parents, but to Angkar, or the Organisation, the Orwellian collective name for the Khmer Rouge's anonymous senior leadership.


CARMICHAEL: Pen Sochan fled shortly after her husband raped her. The regime was just months away from collapsing, and unlike others who tried to escape she survived. She eventually remarried and had six children.

The film also captures the moment when she told her daughters for the first time about her past - a history, she says, that left her "dishonoured".

Pen Sochan has been recognized as one of nearly 4,000 victims, who are known as civil parties, for the purposes of the court's second case.

The makers of the documentary say 250,000 Cambodian women were forcibly married during that time, and unlike in other parts of the world men were also forced to wed. More than 30 of CDP's 138 civil party clients in Case Two are men.

Silke Studzinsky is a civil party lawyer representing nearly 500 people in Case Two. More than 200 are victims of forced marriage, and their stories are similar to Pen Sochan's.

STUDZINSKY : It is a very typical story how the marriage took place. That means the arrangements that she described there, there were no ceremonies, no monks, nothing and they were married to somebody that they did not know before and whom they did not like and did not love and did not want to be married to.

CARMICHAEL: Studzinsky says the only atypical aspect was Pen Sochan's age - she was 16 at the time, which was unusually young.

Filmmaker Chan Lida says that before the documentary, Pen Sochan was terrified of the Khmer Rouge living in her area. Asking them questions about that time has changed her. By standing up, Pen Sochan has shown those who so damaged her life that they no longer control it.

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