The International Victimology Institute Tilburg promotes and executes interdisciplinary research that can contribute to a comprehensive, evidence-based body of knowledge on the empowerment and support of victims of crime and abuse of power.

International Victimology Institute Tilburg

INTERVICT promotes and executes interdisciplinary research that can contribute to a comprehensive, evidence-based body of knowledge on the empowerment and support of victims of crime and abuse of power.

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Using Art to Raise Awareness on Forced Marriage and Related Sexual and Gender-Based Violence in Cambodia by Alina Balta

This contribution aims to put in the limelight the use of art to raise awareness on current issues in (international) criminal law (ICL). It introduces the topic under consideration, forced marriage and related sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV), and explains how it came under consideration before an international(ized) criminal tribunal, in casu the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC).

It points out that the ECCC Decision in the second segment of case 002, holding that forced marriage amounts to crimes against humanity, is an important development in ICL. The importance is evaluated, inter alia, against failure by previous international criminal tribunals to attribute criminal liability to perpetrators of similar crimes (Haenen, 2014; see also de Brouwer, 2005; elaborating on the prosecution of rape as crimes against humanity and rape and sexual violence as crimes against humanity and genocide, before the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, respectively; however, they were not prosecuted in the context of forced marriage). Nevertheless, it asserts that focus on the victims of these crimes - women and men who have suffered immense harm - and their impact remain largely unacknowledged beyond the ECCC sphere and the reparations provided in that context. Therefore, this blog post introduces a project aiming to raise awareness and inform non-legal audiences on these topics.

Forced marriage and related SGBV are amongst the crimes that took place during the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia (1975-1979). The victims of these crimes have ascribed different meanings to their victimizing experiences. Some of the victims have internalized these events as a painful experience in a long chain of other difficult experiences. For others, experiencing these events has shattered deeply held beliefs on marriage and family life, further instilling feelings of loneliness and disruption of life. The victims’ silence around crimes during the Khmer Rouge regime, including forced marriage and related SGBV, has further placed these crimes at the crossroads between myth and reality. As such, stories about forced marriage and SGBV have not been recounted until later. At both national and international levels, information regarding their occurrence has started to surface mainly in the context of ECCC testimonies by Civil Parties. As I came to learn during my visit to Cambodia for the purpose of this photo-book, stories of forced marriage and SGBV were considered to be controversial in Cambodia, due to widespread assumptions that the Khmer Rouge prevented immoral behavior, including rape. According to the Khmer Rouge rules of conduct, if anyone committed immorality or SGBV, they would be ‘reeducated’ and killed at the Tuol Sleng – the infamous prison in Phnom Penh where an estimated of 20.000 people died during the Khmer Rouge regime (Smith-Hefner and Chandler, 2003).

Over time, the many testimonies of victims of the regime, both inside and outside of the ECCC, have revealed patterns of forced marriages and related SGBV across the country. Extensive research (e.g. P. LeVine, 2010; T. De Langis et. al, 2014) has since took place, seeking to further understand the characteristics and prevalence of these crimes, as well as their impact on victims. After years of investigations, the ECCC, in turn, issued on 16 November 2018 a landmark decision in the second segment of Case 002 (i.e. Case 002/02) against Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan. In it, the ECCC acknowledged that the perpetration of forced marriage and rape within forced marriage in the Khmer Rouge regime had indeed taken place, amounting to crimes against humanity (ECCC, Summary of Judgement Case 002/02, 2018). On the other hand, due to the limited charges in the Closing Order of Case 002, all other SGVB crimes committed outside of forced marriage have not been considered at the ECCC.

As I argued elsewhere, the decision in Case 002/02 can be considered a positive development for the 664 Civil Parties declared admissible in the trial in connection to the policy of the regulation of marriage. More broadly, this decision is an important development in international criminal law, against failed attempts to mount similar charges before other international tribunals. At the same time, this judgment endorsed 13 Reparations Projects put forward by the Lead Co-Lawyers on behalf of the Civil Parties, including the one focusing on the harm and consequences of forced marriage. The project targeting the consequences of forced marriage is entitled ‘Phka Sla Kraom Angkar’ and was designed in cooperation with the Civil Parties. It incorporates public performances as well as community and intergenerational dialogue to generate public discussion and awareness of how marriage was regulated during the Khmer Rouge. Interestingly, due to the ECCC reparations’ moral and collective character, as set forth in the Court’s legal framework, the Reparations Project(s) endorsed by the Court were designed to benefit the larger population (of victims), and not only the Civil Parties in the trial.

Arguably, these developments can be considered positive, from an international legal perspective. Indeed, the Court’s finding of forced marriage as amounting to crimes against humanity has the potential to raise awareness with regard to the existence and perpetration of forced marriage and related SGBV during the Khmer Rouge, and draw the attention to the ensuing harm and victimization.

That said, in the process of carrying out research for my doctoral thesis, I have come to realize the scarcity of knowledge of non-legal audiences regarding the existence of forced marriage and related SGBV in Cambodia, these crimes’ impact on the lives of victims, as well as their life-long consequences. With logistical support from a local organization in Cambodia, the Transcultural Psychosocial Organization (especially Ms. Sopheap Taing; Research, Monitoring & Evaluation Coordinator), as well as financial support from Koninklijke Nederlandse Akademie van Wetenschappen in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, I have decided to create a project that would contribute to this goal. Through a series of photographs and life narratives (Pemberton, Aarten and Mulder, 2018) collected in a photo-book, I thus set out to inform non-legal audiences about the existence of victims of forced marriage and related SGBV in Cambodia. At the same time, I aim to highlight the impact of these crimes on the victims’ lives, including their struggles and/or coping mechanism(s) with the victimizing event. This is how ‘Portraits of Injustice: Forced marriage and related sexual violence during the Khmer Rouge’ came into existence.

The Photo-Book: Portraits of Injustice’s goal and how I set out to achieve it is explained in the forthcoming book, of which the following passage is part:

“With this in mind, this photo-book started off with the aim to sensitize the world with regard to the victimization of thousands of victims of forced marriages under the Khmer Rouge regime and their consequences thereof. Through this material, the stories of 12 survivors of the regime are heard and seen. It is a platform for the victims to speak out, raise awareness with regard to their victimization and lives, and make their stories known. Coupling groundbreaking research consisting in narrative victimology, and visual representation of portraits of 12 women, through this photo-book, science meets art. In addition to providing rigorous representation of the survivors’ lived experiences of forced marriage, rape, SGBV, and other crimes, the photographs demonstrate the unspeakable and the unforgettable. As Susan Sontag put it, “photographs of victims of war are themselves a species of rhetoric. They reiterate. They simplify. They agitate.” This is the aim of the photo-book: to expose. It is my hope that through the verbal and visual representation of such stories, the readers will understand, feel, and acknowledge the pain of victims of forced marriage and related victimization. The photo-book conveys the stories of 12 brave women, who decided to open up, and share their stories with the world. They want the world to know what they have been through; they have been brave enough to show the world their wounds. The pictures in the photo-book attempt to reveal deeper scars. A mere encounter with the eyes of survivors can depict various emotions that the reader would not otherwise be exposed to.”

As explained, this photo-book aims to reach audiences beyond the legal sphere, and in doing so, it uses a specific form of art, namely photography, to convey an important message: these crimes did occur, and their consequences continue to affect the lives of so many women (and men) in Cambodia. The photo-book will be published with Wolf Legal Publishers in 2019.

[This blogpost is a product of the Intervict Reparations Initiative, commissioned by the NWO-VIDI Project, A Waste of Time or No Time to Waste. In addition, this blog post has been written for the Art and International Justice Initiative, referenced and published here:}