The Road to Impunity

What is impunity?

When 115 journalists are murdered in a quarter century span, with less than a dozen cases leading to conviction — that is impunity.

When more than a thousand activists are slain over a decade, with hundreds still missing, and hardly anyone held accountable for these crimes – this is impunity.

When the President of a Republic hails a butcher of activists as her hero – this is impunity.

When military officers engaged in massive electoral fraud are promoted – this is impunity.

When radio stations are torched and bombed, when local government officials can storm a broadcast booth and beat up an anchor — that is impunity.

Impunity is the goal, the end — the god on whose altar victims are sacrificed.

Impunity is success gone mad. Impunity is a situation where you, demigod, are the only one left standing in democracy’s graveyard. Impunity is a paradise for tyrants and hell for the rest of us forced to choose between silence and a bullet.

In a perverse way, impunity is like a precocious child. It doesn’t spring from the air fully grown. If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes an entire society to breed impunity.

It is right that we hold butchers and their enablers accountable for their crimes. But we must go beyond that. We must look around, study past and present, review our own thoughts and actions, so that we can map our escape from impunity. For impunity is a monster with numerous tentacles. Until we learn to discern the roads that link to it, we will forever be running in place, writhing as the our nation slowly gives up its soul.

Here lies impunity…

When we fork over bribes or when we offer bribes to make life easier – there lies the road to impunity. Such enabling action only encourage those who think they are above the law.

When political leaders are silent on the abuses of their followers and allies because they may be needed in the next elections – there lies the road to impunity. When a politician looks the other way, you can be sure it has to do with a wish for his friends to do the same when he gets in trouble.

When politicians vote on the basis of pork – there lies the road to impunity.  When politicians vote on the basis of partisan politics – there lies the road to impunity.

When political parties are shorn of ideological or political identities and simply merge and divide on pure profit motives – there lies the road to impunity.

When we refuse to engage in governance processes – there lies the road to impunity. It is easier to blow the whistle on plans of dubious integrity than chase after perpetrators when they have further lined their pockets and roped in new, hungry allies into their circle.

When we vote on the basis of what scraps are thrown the way of our clans, instead of what funds are invested into community development projects – there lies the road to impunity. If someone can afford to rain down coins on an entire village, it is because he or she has a vault filled with dirty cash.

When those who think themselves enlightened fulminate against the ‘ignorant’ masses but refuse to engage the same – there lies the road to impunity. When no alternative models are offered them, people will choose on pure survival instinct.

When those who think themselves enlightened rail against ignorance but refuse to aid the masses in getting a just deal from society and government – therein lies the road to impunity.  The only chance you have against guns, goons and gold is the goodwill of the masses. That is earned by showing them you care. We laugh at them for mistaking alms as a sign of love, but it is a battle lost by default because of our refusal to invest time, brains and sweat in their gut issues and life-and-death causes.

When the incomes of Justices and the state’s highest auditors are beyond the pale of review – there lies the road to impunity. If we are to submit ourselves to the judgments of these men and women (for better or worse), we need to believe in them, need to see how they live away from the benches and the number-crunching machines.

When we see rebellion as an excuse to practice butchery and pogroms – there lies the road to impunity. Sympathy for a cause does not have to translate to blindness.  You cannot wait for victory. Do that and come face to face with the triumphant gods of impunity.

When we allow the human rights of anyone, for any reason, to be violated by the state, when we ignore the fact that all states are vested with powers that need to be regulated by laws – there lies the road to impunity.

Impunity loves shortcuts. And there is no better time to review our practices than in an era of transition. Better to slog through a winding road and dismantle tangled barricades and defuse assorted landmines along the way. The alternative is a stampede that leads us back into impunity’s loving arms.

When a President borne to power on the promise of tuwid na daan reneges on a pledge to make freedom of information a priority of government, and suddenly finds a host of reasons to doubt what even his paranoid predecessor’s executives had grudgingly blessed — you open the gate once more to impunity. If you cannot see that impunity’s nemesis is transparency, if you do not understand that impunity thrives because all means are used to foil discovery of crimes, if you cannot even trust your people to handle a constitutional right…. aaaah, what else will you withhold from us tomorrow, the day after, the next year?

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