For Preap Sokhoeum, marriage and childbearing was a grisly affair.
Forced to marry a handicapped soldier, she was raped by her husband after refusing to consummate their marriage, Sokhoeum, a civil party, told the Khmer Rouge tribunal yesterday. When her husband disappeared around the time she gave birth to their daughter, state officials came and threatened her baby’s life.
The tribunal is currently hearing testimony on charges of forced marriage against former Khmer Rouge leaders Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea, and Sokhoeum’s testimony described a regime that exerted complete control over the lives of its people.
“If we did not obey the discipline’s orders, we would be killed like animals,” Sokhoeum said. “I didn’t want to get married at all, but I was scared of the killing.”
Fearing for her life, Sokhoeum went along with the marriage without protest, she told the court. But she was heartbroken to be married without her parents in attendance, and without the traditions that usually accompany a Khmer wedding. As such, she was reluctant to regard the marriage as legitimate.
“[My husband] put one of his hands onto my body and I held his hand firmly and told him that I was committed not to allow anyone to touch my body,” she said. “The marriage was not held under the strict custom and tradition of my country, so I did not allow him to touch me.”
But officials repeatedly told them they would be killed if they didn’t have intercourse, Sokhoeum said. Eventually, her husband grew agitated.
“He tore my clothes, my shirt, my trousers, and took off my bra, and then he raped me … He shouted that Angkar would kill us both,” she said, using the name, meaning “the organisation”, by which the Khmer Rouge referred to itself.
“He said that … he had to follow Angkar’s instructions.”
To this day, Sokhoeum said she feels remorse for having lost her virginity to a man she married without her parents’ consent.
Sokhoeum’s pregnancy was equally fraught, she testified later. Her husband had begun to fear the regime would kill him.
“A bit before I delivered my baby, [my husband] told me he’d go and run and live in the forest,” Sokhoeum said.
Knowing that she, too, would be killed if he fled, she asked him to kill her before he left. Her husband refused, and shortly thereafter he disappeared, she testified.
Sokhoeum gave birth in the dark, without a midwife, and without any knowledge of childbirth. The only thing her mother had told her was that babies come from a woman’s calf.
A month after she delivered her baby, a party member visited her home.
“She looked at the baby and told me that the baby should be taken away and killed,” Sokhoeum said. “I told her the baby didn’t know about the policy of the party.”
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