In response to the letter, "KR trial standards" by Kenneth Roth of Human
Rights Watch in the Nov 26 - Dec 9, 1999 issue, I have to comment on two points:
"These are crimes of universal jurisdiction," and "The international
community has a legitimate interest to intervene."
As a Khmer Canadian who escaped the Khmer Rouge rule, I see that cultural misunderstanding
has played a major part in the early development of the Khmer Rouge trial. Herodotus
(484-425 B.C.) captured an essential insight when he wrote "For if one were
to offer men to choose out of all the customs in the world such as seemed to them
the best, they would examine the whole number, and end by preferring their own; so
convinced are they that their own usages far surpass those of all others"
This has certainly enticed me to believe that Mr. Roth's statement on the two points
mentioned above is rather invalid, to some extent, in the eyes of some of the Khmer
The disagreement over the trial has involved not just behavioral differences but
the perceptions of cultural phenomena. Culture is so powerful in the way it shapes
individuals' perceptions that understanding the way of life in other societies depends
on gaining insight into what might be called the inner cultural logic.
Naturally, western civilization has ranked highest on the scale because the standard
for judging was based on western values; whereas, Khmer cultural values have not
been applied, and have suffered for most of this century.
As much as I support the International Community or United Nations involvement in
the process, judicially, I still believe that the Khmer people should have more than
an equal say, and should be respected if they choose the American proposal.
After all, Khmers are the victims of this crime which involved perpetrators who are
also Khmers (the KR). In a formal criminal justice system, this crime might have
been called a crime of murder if nothing else, which would have suited for the criminal
justice system of the state involved to decide the case, in whatever standards. Obviously,
this view might have led some of the Khmer people to believe that they, too, have
an absolute legitimacy to be responsible, one way or the other.
So, where is the common ground?
Chansokhy Anhaouy, Vancouver, Canada