Several hundred students on Tuesday attended a talk at Pannasastra University on how to end sexual violence in conflict as part of a global campaign spearheaded by U.K. Foreign Secretary William Hague and U.N. Special Envoy for refugees Angelina Jolie.
The event, organized by the U.K. Embassy, aimed to spark discussion on how to end sexual violence in conflict, but also how judicial systems can be strengthened to gain the trust of victims and mete out justice to perpetrators.
Nakagawa Kasumi, a professor of gender studies at the university, carried out the first research into sexual and gender-based violence committed during the Khmer Rouge regime and said that women are disproportionately affected by such crimes because of their place in society.
“A culture of impunity, that perpetrators go unpunished, will create the society where more violence will happen, sexual violence,” she told the crowd.
“This is shown in the latest statistics by the U.N., demonstrating Cambodian men perpetrate a very high rate of sexual violence against women in the Asia-Pacific,” she said, adding that the widespread nature of such crimes is partly due to the fact that violence has been normalized and the courts are weak to act.
“The government policy and responses to violence against women need to acknowledge the past crimes and we, also you, the youth of the country, have to know the history of sexual violence in the territory of Cambodia to stop the culture of impunity,” Ms. Kasumi said.
Alistair Hilton, a consultant with the NGO First Step, said people needed to be mindful that Khmer Rouge-era sexual violence was not just committed against women.
“In the Pol Pot time, the perpetrators of sexual violence were both men and women,” he said. “And those crimes were committed against men and boys.”
Some of the Khmer Rouge-era crimes that victims have come forward about include rape, gang rape and forced marriage, which, Ms. Kasumi said “was torture for both” men and women.
The Khmer Rouge tribunal will be prosecuting crimes of forced marriage in the next phase of Case 002, which is set to begin later this year.