Monday, April 11, 2005

Amnesty – Moving On

In countries trying to rebuild after years of bloodshed, there comes a choice the government has to make in dealing with the perpetrators of violence. This is no easy decision. The government has to choose between some level of justice against those who have committed grave crimes, and sending a message of inclusion to give the new government legitimacy. This was very much the case in Rwanda following the genocide. After the Tutsi-led RPF took over the government, they set up a coalition government that would include Hutus. Since so many were responsible for the acts of genocide, the government had to decide if they wanted to try everyone that was involved, and risk alienating the Hutu majority, or ignoring some of the crimes in favor of building a coalition. They went with the latter, and decided only to try those who were leaders and gave orders during the genocide.

Iraq is now facing a somewhat similar situation. They have to deal with both Sunni Baathists and those Iraqi Shiites who fought against the American invasion. Iraq’s new president, Jalal Talabani, is calling for amnesty for Iraqis that fought against the original invasion. This amnesty would exclude foreigners, especially those affiliated with al Qaeda, and those who are now attacking innocent civilians. He is also pressing for the release of Moqtada Sadr’s followers now that the radical cleric says his group will participate peacefully in the government. In dealing with Sunni Baathists, Talabani says those that were not responsible for crimes should not be removed from the government. These are all good steps to take. Allowing those that fought against the original invasion should be given the chance to participate in the new Iraqi government. And by making amends with Sadr, the Iraqi government could not only get a powerful ally, but many of those that fought in his group could become members of the Iraqi security forces. Also, any step to include Sunnis will hopefully help bring them closer to participating peacefully.

Amnesty and reconciliation are never easy steps – especially when it gives the impression that certain people are escaping justice. But sometimes it is necessary to help a new government succeed.