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
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
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
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.
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.