Cambodia: UN official welcomes possibility of genocide court trying sexual crimes

Special Representative Zainab Hawa Bangura.
UN Photo/Cristina Silveiro
Special Representative Zainab Hawa Bangura.

Cambodia: UN official welcomes possibility of genocide court trying sexual crimes

A senior United Nations official today welcomed the recent decision by Cambodia’s genocide tribunal to annul a previous ruling that would have prevented it from trying crimes of sexual violence committed during the Khmer Rouge regime.

“This ruling provides an opportunity to send a clear message that conflict-related sexual violence is a crime against humanity and that no matter how long it takes perpetrators will be prosecuted and punished,” said the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Zainab Hawa Bangura.

This latest ruling of the UN-backed Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) paves the way for the possibility of including acts of sexual violence, namely forced marriage and rape, to be included in its case against three former Khmer Rouge officials who have been charged with crimes against humanity and genocide.

Nearly two million people are thought to have died during the Khmer Rouge regime between 1975 and 1979. Since then, countless victims have come forward to tell their stories of forced marriage, sexual slavery, rape and other forms of sexual violence.

“The use of forced marriage in particular was systematic and widespread, employed by the regime to secure loyalty to the Government by breaking family bonds and taking a major life decision, who to marry, out of the hands of citizens and entrusting it to the State,” Ms. Bangura said.

“By not including forced marriage in the current case, the court ignores the pain and suffering of all these victims. The brave women who have stepped out of the shadow of shame and stigma represent just a fraction of the thousands of cases of sexual brutality that took place during this time.”

Ms. Bangura stressed that the ruling sends a message to victims that they have not been forgotten and that they will receive justice, and called on the court to give their cases the attention they deserve.

“Those who suffered under the Khmer Rouge should not be victimized again by having their cries for justice ignored,” she added.

The ECCC is an independent court set up under an agreement signed in 2003 by the UN and the Government, and uses a mixture of Cambodian staff and judges and foreign personnel.