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Questions of Kiernan

The Editor,

Thank you for that rare picture of Pol Pot and his

publicity-shy colleagues (11-24 Aug, 1995). What a sight! Their adopted human

form is completely indistinguisable from any other.

The article said that

the Cambodian Genocide Program (CGP) manager Craig Etcheson is "upbeat" about

the progress of investigations into KR mass killings, just days before the

"Striving For Justice" conference. Then we learn that the conference was to be

chaired by CGP director Ben Kiernan. That name again! Somehow this name and that

of Pol Pot and his mates conjure up in my mind a morbid image of a clique of

anachronistic academics-cum-social revolutionists. You would be surprised to

know how many KR leaders held a PhD. I make it clear that I harbor no

deep-seated ill-will towards any of the above mentioned persons. My religion

forbids it. "Striving For Justice" is inherent in human nature and a central

concern of all the great faiths of the world.

Through their labor and

dedication, Cambodia scholars have contributed to a greater understanding of

this once obscure corner of the world. But whatever their good faith it is

doubtful (and this is revealed in their work) whether their initial faith could

have survived unscathed the whirlpool of events into which they had been swept.

Consider this: Pol Pot had a passion for French poetry; Mao was also a poet, but

that was before the "Long March" put an end to such human and humane

sentiments.

The bond between these scholars and the regime or faction

they favor, which in turn favors them as their ideological mentors and

spokesmen, may be more than a casual affair, more potent and established than is

generally realised. That is why they frequently defend that faction's behalf.

The use of academic prestige - such as writing from a particular university -

confers quasi-legitimacy on that faction. This is devoid of impartiality (which

as scholars they ought to abide by) - a breach of professional ethics. It is

thus naive to presume as harmless and excusable the profusion of articles and

essays that only the energy of pedantic cranks and a skewed logic could

generate.

The protest over Ben Kiernan's appointment has been registered

already. The failure to remove him smacks of insensitivity on a grand scale and

raises legitimate questions: a) is the world so short of scholars as to make his

replacement by someone with clear cut independent credentials impossible? b) do

the Cambodians themselves have any say in this? and c) what position does the

diplomatic community take?

We are so used to seeing cynicism and

expediency applied in so many areas of public life that we tend to assume that

justice and the means by which justice is administered are one and the

same.

Towards the end of the Cambodian civil war many inhabitants of

Phnom Penh would have been "upbeat" at watching "fireworks" by army helicopters

and planes as they tried to curb the KR's encirclement of the capital. The

terror, fear and fate of the protagonists were not uppermost in the spectator's

mind, only the brilliant sparks that illuminated the night sky.

Amid the

excitement of bringing this century's most celebrated political serial killers

to justice, I hope that we will not allow emotions to taint or eclipse the

sacred essence of the matter, which is to serve justice to millions of innocents

who suffered and died unjustly.

- Marith Pen, London.

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