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Helen Jarvis - 21 Years in Cambodia

By: Charlotte Lancaster Posted: July-08-2009 in
Dr Helen Jarvis
Charlotte Lancaster

Released from long periods of instability and liberated by peace, Cambodia has come a long way since Mrs. Jarvis, Chief of Public Affairs, ECCC, first arrived in Cambodia in 1967. Visiting the region as part of a student leadership programme, Helen fondly remembers the curiosity of a people leisurely commuting on remorque's as they inquisitively observe the lone foreigner marvelling the temples of Angkor. The two week fleeting visit may have been short in time, but it proved great in impact as it laid the foundation for a life long commitment to a country to which she would become a national of, and a language of which she would master.

Unable to return until 1987, Helen spent the previous twenty years closely observing the struggles within Cambodia from her homeland Australia. Upon return, she noted that although the tranquil charm had been trampled, an inadvertent affect of the war and isolation had been to freeze the city in time, preserving much of the streetscape and buildings. "During that time, there had been limited access and exposure to outside information, material and goods; the country as a whole had less and, so, society was more equitable," clarifies Jarvis as she describes a city where students and government officials alike travelled by bicycle. "In the days before the emergence of modern technology such as the telephone, the pace was immensely different to what it is now."

"The complete re-haul of Cambodia's financial skyline has inevitably changed the economic configuration and framework within which the country functions," explains the Media Advisor for the Khmer Rouge Tribunal. While praising the recent successes of structural and financial development within the country, the quiet sadness in her voice refers loudly to the sacrifices Cambodian society, tradition and environment have endured under such demographic and fiscal pressure. "Operating within such an evolving framework, we can't expect people not to make personal gain."

Commenting further, Helen notes that peacetime has not only reshaped the internal structure of the country, it has also given birth to a freedom of flexibility and the luxury of accessibility that hasn't been present for four hundred years. "Cambodia is at peace, allowing the nation to enjoy holidays, visit families at the weekends, obtain passports, travel abroad or explore their countryside for the first time in generations." As Cambodia nurtures 'normalcy', Jarvis is impressed by the Khmer recognition of their traditions, citing the huge popularity of the Water Festival and the large numbers of young who visit the temples on Pchum Ben Day as example of a national want to retain a distinct Cambodian heritage in light of encroaching modernity.

When talking about her wishes for the future for Cambodia, Helen returns to two passions: Cambodian waterways and education. Highlighting the current limitations of the Cambodian transport infrastructure, Jarvis stresses that in a country penetrated by water it makes sense to return to a tried and tested system or water transport. "You will notice most pagodas were designed to open onto a river," explains the woman who lives with her husband in a traditional wooden style house along the Mekong River, "the opportunity is here, let's take it."

Education, in particular tertiary education, is another area in which Helen would like to see investigation and investment. "The availability of courses in accountancy and IT are plentiful, but options such as librarianship are lacking." As Head of Information, Library and Archive Studies at the University of New South Wales, Helen originally moved to Cambodia, to help the National Library of Cambodia implement training programmes and to restructure its database system this, understandably, is an issue close to her heart. "The people need to be encouraged to read and write for pleasure, not just for work or out of necessity," further adding that although the quality of publications being produced in Cambodia are generally of a lower standard than neighbouring countries, there has been much improvement in recent years. "This is a country of much potential and talent; we only need to develop the system to exploit what is there already."

user avatar Anonymous

It seems Helen Jarvis feels

It seems Helen Jarvis feels that, with regard to the Pol Pot regime in Cambodia, the means justified the ends. And, as a member of the Leninist Party Faction in Australia, she appears to support the ends.

What's more, she is being REWARDED for this - Being made the head of the victims unit for former victims of the Khmer Rouge's "S-21" torture installation.

Following quotation from The Guardian/ The Observer, Sunday 10 January 2010.

Somehow the link between Marxist-Leninist ideology and communist terror has never been firmly established in the way, for instance, that we understand Nazi ideology to have led inexorably to Auschwitz. As if to illustrate the point, earlier last year the ECCC announced that Helen Jarvis, its chief of public affairs, was to become head of the victims unit, responsible for dealing with the survivors, and relatives of the dead, of S-21.

Jarvis is an Australian academic with a longterm interest in the region, who was recently awarded Cambodian citizenship. She is also a member of the Leninist Party Faction in Australia. In 2006 she signed a party letter that included this passage:

"We too are Marxists and believe that 'the ends justify the means'. But for the means to be justifiable, the ends must also be held to account. In time of revolution and civil war, the most extreme measures will sometimes become necessary and justified. Against the bourgeoisie and their state agencies we don't respect their laws and their fake moral principles."

    Jarvis refused to speak to me about these matters.

But Knut Rosandhaug, the UN's deputy administrator for the tribunal, said that the administration "fully supports" her. In this sense, although she was never a Pol Potist herself, Jarvis shows that the spirit of Malcolm Caldwell has survived the last century. It lives on in the conviction that the ends justify the means, and in the manner that liberal institutions can house the most illiberal outlooks.

> Highly dubious, it seems.

Apologies for the long comment.


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