Fiji, which has had far too many political controversies in its recent history, is now in the grip of another one – and the cause, ironically, is a bill designed to promote national reconciliation. Earlier this month, Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase announced his intention to suspend prosecutions in connection with the May 2000 coup, and replace the judicial process with a Reconciliation and Unity Commission modeled on the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission….
The bill is likely to be popular among much of the indigenous Fijian population, which is looking for closure and is growing tired of the continuing spectacle of trials and recriminations. The Qarase government, for its part, has been embarrassed at the number of high government officials convicted of participating in the coup, and may also be looking for a graceful way to give in to its right-wing coalition partners’ demand for a general amnesty….
The trouble with this rhetoric, however, is that it doesn’t speak for the 44 percent of the population that is of Indian origin, few of whom are Christian and who come from a different tradition of justice. As Qarase acknowledged later in the speech, they were the primary victims of the coup, and most of them don’t regard amnesty as closure. Instead, they view closure in terms of just punishment for the coup plotters and restoration of their own place in society. Others – like the military, which believes that amnesty would reward lawlessness – also oppose the bill, but the primary opposition has come from the largely Indo-Fijian Labour Party, which is not only campaigning against the proposal but will seek to pre-empt it through judicial review. Labour – whose leader, Mahendra Chaudhry, was the prime minister who was ousted in the coup – has characterized the commission as an attempt to pander to indigenous votes and “a signal that people could commit terrible crimes and get away with it.”
Read the rest, including the comments, which begin with the following astute observation.
It seems to me that truth and reconciliation polices require that the victimized party be in power (as in South Africa) or at least that the abuses be identified with an out-of-power political faction (as in some of the South American cases). In this case, when you have an ethnicity-based conflict where the minority took most of the damage and the majority is now offering to shake hands and start over — it’s not surprising that it’s going over poorly.