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Satire in bad taste

Satire in bad taste

The Editor,

 

C

raig Etcheson's glib reaction to Julio Jeldres' anguish about the reticence of

the Cambodian Genocide Program in the controversy leading up to the Royal Amnesty

for Ieng Sary trivializes important issues. It requires clarification and comment.

In 1994, the US Congress passed the Cambodian Genocide Justice Act, making it US

"policy... to support efforts to bring to justice members of the Khmer Rouge

for their crimes against humanity." The Act authorized the US Department of

State to fund an organization, first, "to investigate crimes against humanity

committed by national Khmer Rouge leaders"; second, "to provide the people

of Cambodia with access to documents, records and other evidence" collected

as a result of such investigations; and, third, "to submit the relevant data

to a national or international penal tribunal." The funding was awarded to the

Cambodian Genocide Program, which is managed in Cambodia by Dr Etcheson. The award

says that in addition to carrying out the above mandate, the Program should create

an "index of primary source materials" relevant "to the genocidal

acts and other crimes against humanity of the Khmer Rouge... open to legal experts,

scholars and government officials of all countries," and should also "develop

an index of Khmer Rouge figures associated with specific genocidal acts and other

crimes against humanity, together with relevant biographical information."

In a September 1995 progress report, the Program promised to put a "biographic

database on Khmer Rouge political and military leadership, including many alleged

perpetrators of criminal acts" on the Internet by 1997. It announced its database

would resolve the problems of precisely identifying the "victims and perpetrators"

of political killings and establishing "empirical links" between them "on

a national scale". The report also said that the Program had commissioned a

monograph to be completed in 1996 that would "examine the Khmer Rouge chain

of command" and clarify the roles of figures such as Pol Pot and Ieng Sary.

In view of this, it was reasonable to expect the Program to be in a position to provide

information or assistance in finding information relevant to the Ieng Sary case.

It could be argued that the Program should have made a special effort to inform public

debate about Ieng Sary's role and whether he ought to be granted an amnesty, even

if this might have disrupted an already onerous work schedule.

However, Dr Etcheson appears to suggest that by providing such information the Program

might be interfering politically in Cambodia's internal affairs. Such a position

evidently contradicts the Program's Congressionally-defined purpose and also is not

tenable under international law and standards. Dissemination of information about

human rights violations, past and present, is one of the freedoms covered by Article

19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which guarantees that "everyone

has the right... to seek, receive and impart information and ideas.... regardless

of frontiers". Moreover, the guidelines on preventing impunity for perpetrators

of human rights violations recently presented to the United Nations Commission on

Human Rights specify:

Every society has the inalienable right to know the truth about past events and

about the circumstances and reasons which led, through the consistent pattern of

gross violations of human rights, to the perpetration of aberrant crimes. Full and

effective exercise of the right to the truth is essential to avoid any recurrence

of such acts.

The guidelines stress the importance of "measures to facilitate access to archives...

in the interest of historical research in particular." Although access may be

controlled as to any public records, such regulations "may not be used for purposes

of censorship."

If Dr Etcheson wishes to avoid unwarranted suspicion and cynicism about the operations

of the Cambodian Genocide Program, he should indicate more clearly how the Program

is carrying out its mandate with regard to Ieng Sary in accordance with human rights

principles. Satire in bad taste and affected deference to Royal Wisdom and Cambodian

Sovereignty cannot substitute for real answers to legitimate questions.

- Steve Heder, London.

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