Week 540 – 2007-12-30: Transiting from 2007 into the Future

Posted on 31 December 2007. Filed under: *Editorial*, Week 540 |

The Mirror, Vol. 11, No. 540

Mirroring what is in the news – mirroring and reading what is going on in our society, among our neighbors, and in the world – calls us always to look back and to look into the future. To be aware of time means always to be aware of the fact that we are transiting from the past to the future.
During the past year there were some events which contained a challenge to take a personal position in view of this flow of time – whether we are really bound by such links between the past and the future.

The start of the work of the the Khmer Rouge Tribunal provoked many people to make statements similar to the one attributed to Nuon Chea at the time when his faction of the Khmer Rouge gave up military action and was, in exchange, accorded special arrangements for the administration of the north-west area of the country around Pailin which they had controlled by their forces: “Let by-gones be bygones.”

The First Prime Minister Prince Ranariddh and the Second Prime Ministers Hun Sen wrote together to the UN Secretary General on 21 June 1997, asking “for the assistance of the United Nations and the international community in bringing to justice those persons responsible for the genocide and crimes against humanity during the rule of the Khmer Rouge from 1975 to 1979,” because “Cambodia does not have the resources or expertise to conduct this very important procedure,” and because they believed that “crimes of this magnitude are of concern to all persons in the world… We hope that the United Nations and international community can assist the Cambodian people in establishing the truth about this period and bring those responsible to justice. Only in this way can this tragedy be brought to a full and final conclusion.”

This was a declaration that the leadership of the Cambodian government was committed to call those responsible for injustice to help establish the truth about the past, to conclude the events of that period finally, in order to see clearly into the future. The international community responded to this call by the Cambodian leadership, and a considerable sector of Cambodian society seems to share the same concerns: it is necessary to clarify the past to achieve a clearer future.

But there is a second web of relationships and involvement. The transition from one year to the next reminds us that we are bound by this past-future link – whether we like it or not. It also reminds us that we are not only in time, but also in space we are part of larger connected relationships – again, whether we like it or not. The year 2007 brought not yet the assurance, but the high probability, that Cambodia will be able to gain riches from natural oil and gas in the future. It is unavoidable to look into the gains and the problems other countries experienced in similar situations in the past. And this has to be seen in connection with statements by the Minister of the Environment about natural resources and about gold resources – in ecological and in economic terms. The Prime Minister recently disclosed financial reserves of more than US$2 billion. Questions about transparency and public handling of public funds arose, even though reportedly the purpose of some millions of such dollars spent – to keep fuel prices low – was for the benefit of the people. Then came the story that a person in the most important government public telecommunications operation was accused of having stolen US$4 million per year for some years – that nobody had been aware of it, and nobody had raised it, is almost beyond imagination. If such past activity is not clarified and publicly rectified, public administration and state finance will remain a target of mistrust in the future.

Thirdly, throughout the year we were confronted again and again with questions about the role of the law – of observing the law, or of breaking it by power and force. Nationally and internationally, it continued to be part of our mirroring. It related to many cases of land grabs and the pleas of people from the countryside coming to Phnom Penh, or from some sections of the capital city. They came when they were near despair but still had hope – holding the pictures of the Prime Minister and his wife as proof of their trust in the political leadership – until they were chased and trucked away. Similarly, when on 3 October 2007, Prime Minister Hun Sen was quoted by the Voice of America as calling for an end to the violent crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators and monks in Myanmar, saying the ruling junta should “have maximum patience, not use force to crack down on the demonstrators,” there was hope that monks in Cambodia would be spared beating by electric batons, as the police here would also have maximum patience. But what actually took place in front of the Vietnamese embassy was quite different.

Fortunately, we are not suffering the massive fatal violence under which people in a number of countries in Africa, and in Afghanistan and Iraq live daily. In all those situations, initial violence (either by opposing forces or by state powers) and counter-violence by the other side escalated. One recent example is the murder of Benazir Bhutto in Pakistan, a former prime minister who had formerly been deposed and accused of corruption; her father, also formerly a prime minister, had been executed for corruption. The legitimacy of the corruption accusations were strongly contested. Ms. Bhutto’s murder, now, was accompanied by the death of about 20 more people in the suicide bombing, and it is reported that the political clashes since have resulted in dozens of more people losing their lives. It is with such bloody news that we move towards the transition from 2007 to 2008.

Violence requires a strong response by the legitimate forces of the state, taken after maximum patience and without prejudice. Use of public resources requires competent, non-corrupt, and transparent management by the state. Handling of people’s pleas for justice requires prompt, compassionate and lawful response from the state. If these standards for government action can be met in 2008, maybe the many New Year wishes for good luck, health and happiness in a peaceful new year that are now being exchanged may not be completely in vain.

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