THE Amnesty Bill of 2016 which seeks to grant members of the security sector a blanket amnesty for offences committed between January 2007 and December 2015 has become a talking point in the country’s body politic.
Predictably, it has its supporters who laud it as a chance to wipe the slate clean and build stability in the country. For Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili who mooted the bill in June this year, the idea of an amnesty is “quite attractive”, and it would apply to soldiers accused of mutiny, murder, sedition, acts of violence, malicious damage to property, kidnapping, desertion and other acts of treason.
However, it has vociferous opponents who believe such an action can only send dangerous signals that impunity is encouraged as it will always go unpunished, especially in view of the fact that this is not the first amnesty that has been declared over the course of the country’s 50 years of independence.
Some of the critics of the bill which could be tabled in the National Assembly after it reconvenes on 11 November this year include Attorney Tumisang Mosotho who has said it seems to be calculated to “deny Basotho their rights to exercise their civil rights”.
While it may sound a highly charged emotional statement, it does however demonstrate the strong views that exist at the other end of the spectrum away from those of the government who are sponsoring the bill.
It demonstrates the polarising effect the bill is already having instead of uniting the country and contributing to the search for lasting peace and stability.
While we support every initiative aimed at anchoring our beloved nation on the firm foundation of lasting peace and stability, we strongly support calls for greater inclusivity in the crafting of the bill to ensure the final product has wide acceptability which is a necessary ingredient for genuine reconciliation.
As pointed out by some analysts, the idea of amnesty like that in neighbouring South Africa in the mid-1990s is commendable.
However, if we are to draw our lessons from South Africa, it would be very clear that the amnesty was preceded by a truth exercise in which amnesty was only granted to those who had confessed and admitted their crimes. This also helped bring closure to victims as well.
Such lessons are important and could be useful in our situation especially as the idea of amnesty is not new at all but time and again, peace and stability have remained elusive.
As noted by Attorney Mosotho, the General Amnesty Order of 1986 was declared 30 years ago for the purpose of granting amnesty for political crimes committed from 1970 to 1986.
Another amnesty was passed in 1987 by the Military regime to protect soldiers for acts committed from January 15, 1986 to January 15 1988 and again in 1996, the country passed the Pardons Act 1996 that granted amnesty from November 1 1993 to December 31 1995 for persons who were in unlawful possession of firearms and ammunition and to certain persons who are liable for criminal prosecution for certain offences.
It could just end up being a cycle of amnesties benefitting perpetrators while achieving nothing for the victims and for reconciliation.
We therefore urge a more inclusive approach which would enable points of divergence to be eliminated or reduced to manageable levels if the country is to finally find closure and start on the road to genuine reconciliation and ultimately peace and stability.
In the absence of that, we will continue in the cycle of recriminations and engender the spirit of bitterness and vindictiveness in those who feel hard done by laws that do not take into account their grievances and experiences.