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The Devils' Advocate

The Devils' Advocate

Dear editor,

The headline you attached to my article, ("Devils' Advocate"

Post, Nov 10), which stated baldly, "There should be no trial", appears to have

confused some readers, among them Henri Locard, whose rejoinder you printed in

your last issue. Those words were from your pen, not mine, and while that

inference can certainly be drawn from what I wrote, it is not the only one

possible. The case I made was rather that a tribunal, if established, will have

more to do with revenge than justice - and that those who advocate such a course

must assume the logic of what they are advocating (or try to prove that my

argument is wrong).

My purpose in writing was not to prescribe ready-made

answers, but to try to trigger a debate on two fundamental issues: Is a trial of

the former Khmer Rouge leaders the best way forward for Cambodia? And, if a

trial is held, can it be conducted in such a way that the outcome will be seen

as a triumph for justice?

I argued that there are strong grounds for

doubting both these propositions. But, in the final analysis, it is not for

outsiders to lay down the law (hence my quarrel with your headline). It is for

Khmers to decide. It is their country; their tragedy; and theirs to determine

the way ahead. As a foreigner one may state one's view. But it is not for us to

tell Cambodians what to do. Not the least irony in the present situation is that

those countries which are most vocal in laying down the path Cambodians "must"

follow are those most strongly opposed to any interference in their own internal

affairs.

Henri Locard delivered himself of a fine diatribe, and the

strength of feeling with which he writes does him credit. Moreover, he has a

good point when he notes the similarity of the treatment of the "new people" in

many different parts of the country. But the mere presumption of guilt is not

enough. In a fair trial, it will be necessary to prove the direct responsibility

of the accused for what happened. That is a very different matter.

The

only other substantive point Monsieur Locard made was to dispute my

"preposterous" assertion that many governments have, or have had, institutions

of violent political repression, analogous to S-21 and the tentacular prison

system that underpinned it. Let him go through the list of UN member states, and

count those which, over the last 50 years, have qualified. It makes depressing

reading. (The vast majority, incidentally - from Haiti to Guatemala to Indonesia

- were non-communist).

I am merely sorry that he devoted so much space to

knocking down claims I did not make and in which I do not believe. Rhetoric is

no substitute for reason. Polemics may be good politics, but they do little to

advance the cause of justice - or truth. A dispassionate debate is not easy on

such an emotive topic, but it is surely what Cambodia needs.

On a lighter

note, do, please, explain why you displaced the apostrophe in the title,

"Devils' Advocate". Typographical error? Or pun fatigue on deadline day? I would

have thought the one thing on which all your readers could agree is that, in

this country, there has been more than one "devil" at work.

- Philip Short, Phnom Penh

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