Image courtesy Vice
Jesus used parables to convey the essence of His teaching. On one occasion He taught on the importance of self-scrutiny through a parable that contrasted two men at prayer. Of these the one who recognised his lapses, stood at the threshold of change and growth. The other, was blind to his lapses. He would remain static in the grip of arrogance until and unless he came to his senses and recognised his shortcomings.
Self-scrutiny amounts to personal accountability through voluntary review. It is an abiding spiritual discipline in the time tested religions of the world as well as in secular life. When practised with humility and integrity, it spills over to enhance the common good. When disregarded, it stunts growth and obstructs the common good.
Just as humans benefit from self-scrutiny, institutions too benefit greatly from it. This is because our institutions, whether parliament, or the judiciary, organised religion or the military, our prisons department or police department; comprise flawed humans who carry our human lapse into the character and affairs of these institutions.
More seriously, and as we only know too well, when attitudes of denial and resistance to institutional scrutiny are entrenched in the lives of these institutions, they tend to forget that their primary legitimacy comes from serving the common good and then develop an aversion to account for their behaviour. From here, institutions easily shift to an unhealthy life style of impunity that those who make up these institutions would not have imagined or attempted in their individual capacity.
The call for accountability on how we hurt each other did not first come from outside. It came from within the country and it came consistently throughout our painful and protracted conflict of three decades. Almost every reported violation and atrocity during those tragic and violent days provoked calls for investigation and the disclosure of the truth from groups and individuals of conscience. But sadly our institutions responsible for the moral, legal and physical protection of the innocent let us down badly. The absence of institutional scrutiny had brought a heavy toll.
The closest we came to a formal recognition of the truth was the findings of the LLRC which recommended further investigation on some accumulated grievances. Had we even then pursued these recommendations with political integrity, this could well have paved the way to a wider and more thorough investigation of our questionable behaviour that today’s co-sponsored UN resolution calls for.
A fresh start
Nevertheless the co-sponsored UN resolution has once again provided an opportunity for us to do what is right for and by ourselves. For this to be done with purpose, however, we are to recognise that the cause of today’s accumulated investigative challenge is the loss of perspective of our institutions with mandates for the common good. This is why any attempts at reform and reconciliation cannot casually bypass the crises of character and behaviour of these institutions. Perpetrators are not only those who killed, drove the white vans or conscripted children. They also include those with statutory responsibility to protect people, uphold human values, investigate violations, prosecute perpetrators and make known the truth, and who did not do so.
To deny this first line of culpability is to protect those still within the system, capable of pulling the country down once again to the very patterns of behaviour that we want to see an end to.
A Compassionate Council
There has been some talk of a compassionate council, comprising religious leaders, as part of the response to the co-sponsored UN resolution. While both religion and compassion must have a place in wider social reconciliation and healing, the place of such a formal council in our common search for truth, justice and reconciliation today, cannot go uncontested.
This is mostly because justice tempered with mercy must be left to the judicial system and worked out on judicial principles. If such a mix is alien to our judicial system the co-sponsored resolution becomes an opportunity to break new ground. After all any post war judicial investigation that pursues accountability and national reconciliation cannot casually dispense amnesties mostly or hastily throw people into prison mostly. What is required is a public disclosure of truth leading to prosecutions for violations, along with remedial provisions for a return to healing relationships; in that order. Daunting no doubt; but there does not seem to be a better way to deal with violations, heal memories of the past and prevent further fragmentation and conflict.
A step within such remedial mechanisms would be for victims, who mostly have the right to extend compassion, to be provided with space and time to forgive perpetrators after the truth has been disclosed and acknowledged, and for this to have a bearing on prosecutions.
Such a stance that asserts that reconciliation cannot be divorced from justice, the rule of law and fairness, also challenges the easy assumption that compassion comes mostly from formal religion. In fact formal religion has often demonstrated quite the opposite. With notable exceptions, it is known to be too politicised or too indifferent on social issues or too obsessed with its own agendas of expansionism and exclusion, to impartially and proactively usher compassion.
Moreover compassion is a generously distributed virtue among those who do not claim to possess it or follow the chemistry of religion. We are misled and mislead if we imagine that religious labels are always trustworthy and if we project religious leaders too generally above others as models of compassion.
Self-scrutiny, institutional scrutiny, the self-disclosure of truth, forgiveness, justice and reconciliation, cannot be sold or demanded, promised or politicised. These life transforming values are to grow and be nourished through practise and affirmation. If we can together make this happen, the pursuit of truth, justice and reconciliation will transcend formal investigations to become an integral way of life and the bedrock of democracy in our land.
Anything short of this will reduce our endeavours to a ploy and even a lie.
With Peace and Blessings to all.