Is getting away with murder acceptable?

Within the last 70 years there is a peculiar phenomenon of getting away with murder and calling it one of a variety of politically correct names. Let me explain:

The Rwandan genocide is well known to all readers of this column … not just because I refer to it often, or that it has been popularised in movies, but rather because my readers are adults over the age of 21, with rare exceptions.

Rwanda is an example of many things, not the least of which is the way they have transformed their economy and changed the culture of division and hate that caused the 1994 genocide.

The use of a modern court system, coupled with a unique parochial judicial exercise called ‘Gacaca courts’, have effectively managed the trial of over 1.5 million people who literally slaughtered over a million people.

The Gacaca system conducts trials of offenders who must “admit” to the committal of the crimes they did in largely an informal setting where a respected member of the community functions as a judge, albeit with very little training.

The families of the victims are present and they are encouraged to forgive the offenders.

This exercise assists in reducing prison sentences and reintroducing the incarcerated person to society.

The leaders of this genocide were convicted in international tribunals.

This all sounds very progressive the way I have worded it, but the end result is that persons are going through the Gacaca exercise for offences including murder and they are in effect getting away with them.

Practically speaking, there is no other option. You can’t imprison or execute 1.5 million offenders and if you try to, it is likely to cause another uprising.

South Africa, after decades of international sanctions, an armed struggle and consistent civil disobedience, did away with the apartheid regime in the early nineties and an election in 1994 ended the apartheid Government.

What was expected was a purge to satisfy the cry for justice for the families of the slain, the brutalised and the wrongfully imprisoned.

What actually happened was the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

This commission that was formed by an act of Parliament in 1995, ie, ‘The promotion of National Unity and Reconciliation Act’, was intended to allow for the victims and the offenders to ventilate their experiences in a court-like setting, with an aim to granting amnesty to the offenders who participated in the process. It was also public.

It was looked on by many, to include myself, that the perpetrators got away with murder.

The upside was that the two groups moved on and to a large degree are no longer in conflict.

South Africa today has one of the strongest economies in Africa

The above two examples force us to ask questions, one of which would surely be, is justice more important than progress?

Also, is the best way to get away with murder to participate in it at a genocidal rate?

Let us look on the treatment of the Germans post World War II.

A trial was held in the form of an international tribunal called the Nuremberg Trials.

In that court, major figures in the atrocities that were committed were tried by an international tribunal made up of allied jurists.

Although they executed only 11 persons, they sentenced 118 accused to prison and 20 more to life sentences.

This was clearly not good enough, but the crimes were so many and the number of offenders so huge that it would be impossible to punish everyone.

It would be fair to note, however, that although Nuremberg was inadequate to achieve justice, the punishment was not limited to this arena.

The Russians sent 1.5 million soldiers to the Gulags as virtual slaves. The survivors remained imprisoned there up to 1956.

This may seem like a more balanced act of justice than the earlier mentioned solutions, but the problem was that many of the former imprisoned German soldiers were not guilty of committing any war crimes.

So let’s go local.

Jamaica had its civil war between 1974 to 1980.

We gave no pardon, held no tribunals, had no commissions.

We did nothing that treated it any different from a typical criminal justice environment.

The unbridled hooliganism, brutality and impunity that occurred in that period is part of our culture today.

It’s played out in our inner cities by the gangs, in our transport sector by the taxi drivers, and in our streets by the vendors.

There is little regard for most laws.

There is also an acceptance that poor young men will participate in criminal activity and that our businessmen will fund them, our lawyers defend them and politicians accept them as part of their reality.

Is this really better than Rwanda’s Gacacas and South Africa’s Truth Commission? Was doing nothing unofficially any better than giving them amnesty officially?

Could this culture have been nipped in the bud if we had confronted our shame in the early eighties like the African nations did. Is it too late to fix it now? No, we can still confront the seventies, we can grant amnesty as well because anyone not yet brought to justice from that era won’t be.

Perhaps allowing our ‘war” to have its place in history may prevent a Rwanda scenario from occurring in the future.



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