Many columns of print have appeared in these pages about the Gavin Scott case. Most
allege that he has been unfairly treated and that his rights have been violated.
Several foreign legal luminaries, especially, have voiced concern about his rights.
It has been made out that he is some kind of voiceless soul abandoned by human rights
workers and his own embassy.
Such persons have ignored some basic contradictions in their own statements. Many
of these same foreign legal experts are usually the first to tell us that the legal
system in Cambodia is in disrepair. They are not the only ones who know that. Every
foreigner who smuggles drugs and antiques, commits pedophilia, or other crimes does
so because he/she knows the legal system is in disrepair and assumes they will never
The flip side of such a bad legal system is that no one gets an adequate defence
when they are arrested. You either have a system with a functioning prosecution and
defence or you don't have either. Foreigners do not raise a hue and cry about criminals
getting away with illegal acts in Cambodia but they will not accept anything less
than a perfect defence for themselves.
The bottom line is that Scott is simply being treated in the same shoddy manner as
every Cambodian who is arrested is treated. Would any of the philanthropists who
go out of their way to write letters to the editor on Scott's behalf or to visit
him extend the same courtesy to the thousands of Cambodians rotting in prisons under
similar or worse conditions? Why is it that when Cambodians are being denied their
rights, it is only a source of concern to the few organizations who actually work
on the issue, but Scott's rights are the concern of practically every single foreigner
in Phnom Penh and elsewhere?
The only explanation is because he is a western white male. The outpouring of concern
is rooted in racism. The Western expat community find it hard accepting that they
don't have any special privileges and is shocked to see one of "them" rotting
in a third world prison. In the recent past, a Filipino sailor was tried for murder,
three Africans were convicted for drug smuggling, and a large group of Iraqis have
been held without trial (so far) for coming here with false passports. All of them
continue to rot in the same prison where Gavin Scott is being held. How much attention
have they got from the enlightened saviours of Gavin Scott's rights?
Scott's Caucasian origins have in fact got him better treatment than most prisoners.
He was charged within a few days of his arrest and a detention order was actually
issued, which is a privilege that most Cambodian detainees do not get in their own
country. He can legally be detained for six months pending trial, but he is being
tried before six months are over. He is allowed visits by expat NGO personnel and
expat doctors. He writes letters to English language papers telling us how lousy
his defender is. He even gets to switch lawyers. And even though his present lawyer
is a government legal advisor and there is certainly a conflict of interest (if not
a violation of the law) in his taking on the defence in a criminal case, who cares
as long as Scott gets a good lawyer? How come the same foreign legal experts can
accept this pretty obvious illegality?
No one says that either Cambodians or Scott deserve such shoddy treatment. The system
absolutely has to be improved - for everyone. There is no point in selectively crying
over Scott and expecting the system will suddenly function better because he is an
expat. But this morally indefensible position is made worse by the fact that no one
has cared to find out how much the child victims of Gavin Scott may have suffered.
No premium can be put on anyone's suffering based on national or racial origin.
- Name and address withheld on request, Phnom Penh.