Sunday,2007-06-17: “…illegal logging, corruption, and land grabbing, are serious problems…”

Posted on 18 June 2007. Filed under: *Editorial*, Week 512 |

The Mirror, Vol. 11, No. 512

The public in the United States of America is nowadays more divided when it comes to the war in Iraq than it was four years ago, when, on 1 May 2003, the US president landed on an aircraft carrier in a navy plane to declare “Mission accomplished.” During the first week in June 2007, the death toll of U.S. military personnel in Iraq passed 3,500 persons killed.

A former US top military commander had said, “We don’t do body counts.” The number of civilians killed since the international military intervention in Iraq is much higher. But there are unofficial counts: one non-government organization collects information from media reports, from hospitals, from wherever possible, and they put their findings onto the Internet as Iraq Body Count; as of the time of this writing, this site says:

“Civilians reported killed by military intervention in Iraq: at least 65,411, maybe up to 71,665.”

Others have questioned these figures, “they are not officially verified and exaggerated” – so there are additional references given, where others – again not officially – have done their counting, with the goal of “Keeping Civilian Deaths in the Eye of the World.”

These figures relate to a bitter reality. These figures are not just abstract statistical data, they represent – every one – a human life lost.

But these data are not official, they are not correct in detail, and definitely their public availability is not welcome to some people with authority in related fields. So a high-ranking US military officer, Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt, was quoted in the New York Times and now on the web site, to have given the advice to Iraqis, who see images on television of innocent civilians killed as a side effect of the war: “Change the channel!” Look away.

Not everybody is prepared to look away from a deeply unpleasant reality. A group of American high school students in the small town of Wilton in the state of Connecticut – a place of less than 20,000 people – in a class working every year on some theater project, decided to consider the war in Iraq. They collected the writings of soldiers who had served in Iraq and of Iraqi civilians, from personal letters, from newspapers reports, and from web sites, including from people who had in the meantime lost their lives or some limbs, and from people who said that they would definitely want to continue to fight in Iraq – mirroring a broad range of opinions, calling it Voices in Conflict.

When the text for this theater performance – only original words of others quoted – was finished, the principal of the high school prohibited the performance.

The result?

“The story subsequently appeared in the New York Times, and the students received thousands of supportive messages – including some from soldiers currently serving in Iraq. Music Theater International recognized the students with its Courage in Theater Award, the first such honor in the organization’s history. Many in the theatrical community also offered to help, including the Fairfield Theater Company in Connecticut, Art Meets Commerce, and the Vineyard Theater, The Public Theater, and the Culture Project, all in New York.”

The students were invited to perform their reflection of reality in a number of highly respected theaters – last week and next week – and there is an ever widening public debate about the realities reflected by individual voices in this work of high school students, which never would have happened, if their work would not have been forbidden.

Not in relation to violence of war and the dramatic loss of thousands of human lives, but in relation to a report by Global Witness about supposedly illegal logging activities in Cambodia, the Cambodian public also experienced some similar dynamics. The fact that the distribution of this report was forbidden by the government resulted in a much stronger interest in this report, which can be read, in both the English and the Khmer language, on the web site of Global Witness on the Internet.

And it is no surprise that the Khmer press quoted the German ambassador not only as having said that “the vision for the Cambodian economy is bright” – on the condition that some negative problems come under control: like corruption, illegal logging, and the fact that there is no real separation between the executive, the legislative, and power of the courts. And he subsequently was quoted as having criticized the government for confiscating the Global Witness report, while illegal logging spreads in Cambodia and positions in forestry administration are sold or put up for bid.

The US ambassador was finally quoted – in our Saturday translations – as saying, “I am concerned about illegal logging, corruption, and land grabbing, which are serious problems against which the Cambodian Government should take action…. I believe that it would be better if the Cambodian Government and Global Witness would discuss with each other.”

The massive deaths in Iraq can not be denied, and to look the other way will not contribute to finding a way out of the presently ever increasing violence. Neither will the allegations in the Global Witness report be discarded as not important or wrong, as long as the many details contained in the report are not being publicly investigated and clarified.

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