Week 548 – 2008-02-24: The Value of Human Lives

Posted on 25 February 2008. Filed under: *Editorial*, Week 548 |

The Mirror, Vol. 12, No. 548

Observing the news – be it in the printed press or on the radio and on TV – we see every day that the value of human life is very differently for different people. Every day we get new counts from Iraq or from Afghanistan – like the report from 19.2.2008 which is not different from many other days – that a suicide bombing had killed 80 people. Some day less, some day more. It is almost routine. Then there are the killings by the different military units trying to stop such killings. It is an almost endless circle – in far away places.

Then we are reminded, by the reports from the ongoing Khmer Rouge Tribunal, that there is an effort to get at least some more clarity, if not justice, about the years 1975 to 1979 in the country, when 1.7 million human person, or more than 2 million, or much less than 1.5 million, violently were made to lose their lives in Cambodia. But two persons, who were supposedly much involved or even responsible – the court is to clarify this – the “Brother Number Two” and the Head of State during most of that time, claim not to have known much about these events. Will we really get to know much more about these events and the motivation behind the killings and the killers – all from a far away past?

But human lives have also been lost closer by. Sam Bith, a former Khmer Rouge commander’s life came to an end during the week after a long sickness. It has always been a mystery, that while the majority of the press reports over the years focused on the death of the three foreigners who were killed after an attack on the train by a Khmer Rouge unit, the lives of ten Cambodians killed in the same attack are – like in the report we mirrored – not even mentioned.

They ordered their subordinates to attack the train almost every day, and finally to kill the three foreigners.

Every week brings us reports about people who are threatened, or even killed violently. And there is often not much reported what happened later.

  • A police official of the Anti-Terrorist Department was tied and shot, to steal some valuables
  • A journalist was threatened to be shot because he exposed what he thought to be illegal business in wood
  • 50 young people fought against each other in Battambang with axes and knives – 2 were killed, and 3 were wounded
  • A man entered a house and stabbed a housemaid – he was beaten dead

We could collect such or similar lists almost every week. There are surely other countries with similar records. But does this mean, that others have similar problems, that the question of justice, and change in the course of a society, cannot be raised?

During the week the public in Phnom Penh could witness an act difficult to interpret: the authorities erected a table to commemorate the Indian political leader Mahatma Gandhi – who was at the same time a spiritual leader. He had put together a list of seven sins which destroy a society. And in his own life he was practically committed to live observing these warnings. How would the life of society change, if Gandhi’s warnings would be observed.

  • “Wealth without work” – is the description of wealth without work not a condemnation of a system, where wealth creates more wealth, and the poor, how much they work, in their great majority never can achieve wealth?
  • “Pleasure without conscience” – is the large number of women who work for their livelihood to give pleasure to men not an indicator that those who have enough wealth to pay for their pleasure lack conscience?
  • “Knowledge without character” – is there not reason to question the kind of knowledge obtained in higher education, when the many reports of gang rape mostly identify the groups of males involved as university students?
  • “Commerce without morality” – why did Transparency International, making surveys in many countries according to the same method, find that only only Cameroon, in the whole world, has a higher incidence of corruption than Cambodia? And also, that more Cambodians paid bribes than were asked to pay bribes? How can corporate accountability grow in such an environment?
  • “Science without humanity” – in which ways do the many educational institutions in the country orient their students not only to build up objective understanding to think scientifically, that is also, to think independently of powerful interests and independently of emotions, but to orient their thinking towards the best of humanity, and not only to the best of their own economic interest, or to the advantage of their own interest as Cambodians in an international context of a wider humanity of many different peoples?
  • “Worship without sacrifice” – how many public ceremonies, to which monks are invited to lead in religious acts, are more than a cultural decoration?
  • “Politics without principle” – the public will observe in which way the erection of the table with Gandhi’s words leads to principled action.

While considering these challenges from India, two new reports came in from India. On 23 February 2008, the President of India, Madame Pratibha Patil, addressed, a seminar on judicial reforms, organized by the Confederation of the Indian Bar – of associations of lawyers and judges. She said, among others:

  • “With a lot of pride, we may recall that the Bar was not only in the forefront of the freedom struggle but later made invaluable contributions in envisioning our Constitution. Those legal stalwarts included Mahatma Gandhi, … Pandit Nehru,… to name only a few… I am confident that the distilled wisdom emerging from the thought-provoking deliberations of the trained legal minds would provide a clear direction in outlining a creative roadmap for comprehensive judicial reforms towards a more sensitive and responsive judiciary.
  • Our freedom struggle culminated in the victory for the Rule of Law, for the values of equality, for wholesome life with dignity and justice.
    The care, diligence and empathy with which the judiciary protects even a lone individual who has truth on his side invests the judiciary with a superior purpose and a higher moral authority. It is this progressive and humanitarian role of our judiciary and the judicial caliber that has earned international acclaim…
  • Time has come when we as stakeholders, without being unduly touchy and sensitive to criticism, have to collectively introspect the causes of the ills of judicial administration and find solutions squarely.”
  • On the next day, on 24 February 2008, it was seen that such words were not words alone, as the law is only as useful as it is applied and enforced. Seven people have been arrested and four policemen were suspended in India’s Bihar state, after a mob had dragged a murder suspect from police custody and had beaten him until he was unconscious. On TV, at least one policeman could be seen standing by, as the murder suspect was taken out from police custody by an angry mob.

    The President of India declared: “The realm of judicial administration is not without its own share of inadequacies and blemishes… Something needs to be done to prevent ordinary citizens taking the law into their own hands.”

    In Cambodia, some members of the police, of the armed forces, and sometimes crowds of people, act as if they were entitled to enact the law with lethal force, or even to be above the law. Maybe new developments will only set in, when persons of high authority in the state speak with similar immediate clarity, leading to publicly visible legal action. The setting up of the table with Gandhi’s words could be such a starting point.

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