In the Phnom Penh Post of April 18 - May 1 we were fortunate enough to see an
interesting combination of views concerning the aftermath of the slaughter of men,
women and children on March 30th.
Michael Clifford wants the photographic evidence to be suppressed, while Beat Richner
thinks it was "wise" to refuse assistance to seriously injured and dying
people, some of whom waited up to an hour to die on the pavement.
If photographs of the victims of violence were never published, where would we find
irrefutable evidence of the Nazi policy of exterminating Jews, Romanies, the mentally
and physically disabled? Would a tribunal have been established to investigate war
crimes in the former Yugoslavia? How would the resistance to the American presence
in Vietnam have been fuelled? How would we know that in the USA some police officers
batter black people? How would justice have been done (finally) for the victim? What
of the recent filming of violence and extortion by the police in Brazil? Should the
bas relief of slavery and torture to be found on many Khmer ruins be screened off
to show respect for the victims and their successors? How many more would have died
of starvation in numerous famines or natural disasters across the world?
It is only in societies where such material cannot be published that violence and
abuse is perpetrated with impunity. These pictures are not only evidence of an important
event, they form part of the archive material needed to interpret history.
What a blessing for the perpetrators that there were no reporters, cameras or tape
recorders to document the gory details of the Pol Pot regime, or the paranoid madness
of Mao or Stalin, Idi Amin's tyranny or Cromwell's wholesale butchery of the Irish.
Apparently not only should we not be allowed to see the evidence of such events,
we are also expected to sympathise with the boss of a hospital situated a few yards
from the scene, who says it was wise to refuse emergency first aid to the victims.
The Kantha Bopha hospital gets its money from people who freely give, as well as
from the long-suffering tax payers of Switzerland, a country renowned for its claim
to neutrality and humanitarian stance. This money comes in the name of humanitarian
aid to Cambodia. I wonder if the donors would agree that the denial of emergency
first aid help to the dying was either "wise" or humanitarian?
No hospital, not even the Kantha Bopha, can operate without taking account of its
context. The Kantha Bopha, despite what Beat Richner would have us believe, is not
unique and is not special, though it is expensive and rather unrealistic in its operation
As with any hospital, the Kantha Bopha should have an emergency plan clearly stating
the extent to which it could contribute in an emergency such as this, along with
a management structure which allows people to put things in motion even when the
boss is playing his cello.
- David Hayter, Phnom Penh.