CAMBODIA: Cambodia War Crimes Court Asked to Probe Allegations of Khmer Rouge sexual violence

Tuesday, May 13, 2014
Austrailia Network News
South Eastern Asia
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General Women, Peace and Security

The UN-backed war crimes court in Cambodia has been asked to examine a range of allegations covering the Khmer Rouge's period in power, including the regime's use of sexual violence.

Around two million people are believed to have died during the Khmer Rouge's rule during the late 1970s, most from execution, starvation, disease and overwork.

International prosecutors want the investigating judges to examine evidence that Khmer Rouge officials often raped women prisoners before executing them.

The development comes ahead of global summit on the issue hosted by Britain next month.

The UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Zainab Hawa Bangura, says the Cambodian investigation comes at a time of heightened awareness about sexual violence as a war crime.

"And now we have 145 countries who have signed a commitment to fight against sexual violence, and we are going to have the summit in June," she said.

"I think all of this put together has created the momentum that everybody realises that this is a crime, you commit it you will be punished, wherever you are, wherever you come from they will go after you."

Although the UN-backed court has over the years investigated an array of serious crimes - including genocide, torture and mass killings - it hasn't looked closely at crimes of sexual violence.

The exception has been the crime of forced marriage, a state policy in which hundreds of thousands of couples were ordered to wed and often forced to consummate their union under threat of execution.

The two Khmer Rouge leaders currently on trial are facing charges of rape, but only within the context of forced marriage.

In 2010 the investigating judges decided that the Khmer Rouge's Moral Code 6, which seemingly barred offences of a sexual nature, meant the leaders had a policy to punish crimes of sexual violence committed by cadres. Therefore, they were not to be charged with any breaches.
Moral code 'not an anti-rape policy'

Prosecutor Nicholas Koumjian has now asked investigating judges to examine allegations of serious sexual violence related to the court's fourth and final case.

That enquiry, known as Case 004, is already investigating three district-level Khmer Rouge chiefs for an array of serious crimes allegedly committed between 1975-1979.

"These include forced marriages and also, within the forced marriages, individuals were required to have sex - so that amounts to rape within forced marriages - and also rape and other sexual violence outside of forced marriages," Mr Koumjian said.

"What we ask is that the investigating judge look at the evidence regarding that and the possible links to suspects in the case."

Among the crimes in that category were instances where women were raped by Khmer Rouge cadres prior to being executed, as well as other occasions where women who reported they had been raped were then murdered.

Researcher Theresa de Langis says studies have shown the Khmer Rouge's moral code was not an anti-rape policy, but was used as part of the regime's exertion of complete control over every aspect of the population.

"So the first thing is that Code 6 was not an anti-rape policy, and I really can't stress that enough," she said.

"This was a policy that punished most often consensual sexual relationships, and in instances of rape, most often the victims."

Ms de Langis says it's increasingly clear that sexual violence was widespread, with more witnesses coming forward after nearly four decades of silence.

"Now we have a mounting body of evidence to say, absolutely, rape was used throughout the country.

"And one of its typical forms was very systematic or at least methodical rapes, gang rapes of groups of women who were already determined to be enemies, raped before they were executed."