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Tasteless, offensive

Tasteless, offensive

The Editor,

I am writing about the reply of David Clayton Carrad and Mrs. Soung Chanthol to my

letter about marriage and power, both of which were published in the Phnom Penh Post's

June 14-27, 1996 issue. I feel compelled to correct some disingenuous parts of the

reply, and respond to its claims that parts of my letter were "incorrect,"

"unfounded," "untrue," "false," "tasteless,"

"offensive," and "ugly."

The reply asserts that no USAID, American Bar Association (ABA), or public funds

were spent on the recent wedding of the authors. Then it more carefully states that

the wedding was not "officially" hosted, assisted or endorsed by the ABA

project or its staff, noting that it was held in "an ABA-leased building containing

the groom's private residence while the separate area containing the ABA's business

offices was locked and empty." This language appears designed to leave readers

with the impression that the ceremony was held in the groom's residence, or some

neutral area, and that ABA personnel played no role in arranging for or conducting

the wedding.

The fact is that the wedding was held in the ABA's office conference room. This is

USAID, ABA, and publicly funded business space, and not part of the groom's residence.

Moreover, the facts are that the ABA director and administrators were involved in

arranging for the wedding to occur in this conference room, and the wedding required

extra assistance from the guards and housekeeper who work for the ABA. Clearly, ABA

"hosted" and "assisted" with this wedding, by any common usage

of the words. And this could easily be seen as "implicitly endorsing" the

event, as my letter stated.

So why pretend otherwise? In general, taxpayers might not care a great deal if the

director of an NGO approved the limited use of the NGO's facilities and personnel

for the wedding of one of its senior staff. The ABA would have paid the same rent

on the conference room anyway, and the extra expense was probably minimal overall.

Perhaps the reply goes to such sad lengths to hide what might normally be relatively

uncontroversial facts because the authors sense that there actually is something

else wrong here, apart from whether public funds were spent on the wedding of an

NGO staff member. Perhaps it is because this wedding - which involved an American

lawyer in his 50's, a USAID-funded advisor to a Cambodian Government Minister, marrying

a 17 or 18 year old Cambodian female - was no ordinary publicly assisted wedding.

Although the reply alludes vaguely to "false slurs" and "ugly stereotypes"

which are "completely untrue," it fails to deny specifically the existence

of the great differences in age, wealth, education, language, and citizenship status

which have caused concern in the foreign aid community. And when an engaged couple

reportedly tell two different people shortly before their wedding that the bride-to-be

is 17 years old, which would make the wedding illegal, people naturally grow more

concerned.

The reply also claims that this is a "purely private matter," and deems

the comparison to the Herald-Tribune's mail order brides article "tasteless

and offensive." However, this activity was not purely private because of the

close involvement of a publicly funded development organization and its facilities.

And as the Herald-Tribune article showed, the legal and social aspects of marriage

are matters of intense public concern. Human relationships cannot be exclusively

private, because of the role that power undeniably plays in them. That is why nations

adopt family and criminal laws, and join the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Those who abuse or exploit others often justify their conduct on the basis that it

occurs in a "private relationship."

I found the reply's remarks about love and happiness interesting, but my letter did

not address those subjects, which though important can be temporary. Instead, my

letter focused on real threats to the long-term futures of Cambodian women. I regret

that the reply, and the ABA "law and democracy" project, had nothing to

say on those topics. Instead, the reply blithely dismissed my concerns as "political

and ideological issues."

That is what I find "tasteless and offensive."
- Sandra J. Summers, Phnom Penh.

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