Impunity

Today is the International Day to End Impunity. When I spoke recently to artist Kiri Dalena, whose very interesting video art installation on the murders of journalists, she told me that impunity happens precisely when governments and elites go unpunished for the violence they commit against others. (Or something like that–will check my recording.) Even so-called democratic regimes can behave with impunity.

Just yesterday, South Africa took a step backward in press freedom. By restricting access to public information–declaring documents secret by government fiat–the ruling African National Congress hopes to suppress evidence that members of the government are engaged in corrupt activities and the media’s capacity to report them. Archbishop Desmond Tutu rightfully likened their move to something straight out of apartheid. The ANC’s retort? At least they were duly elected by a majority.

I am saddened that the party of Nelson Mandela has tasted power and enjoyed it too well. But what saddens me is that the people of South Africa allowed it to happen. For as long as the ANC can deliver, it does not matter whether some of their leaders profit from it. In this sense, South Africans and Filipinos are the same in their tolerance of impunity.

But does that mean we should give up on seeking accountability? By all means no. It matters more than ever in the age of Empire. Most of all, as a person of faith, seeking accountability arises from the necessity of abiding by the truth that sets us free. In that sense, the churches and indeed all people of faith have an obligation to seek accountability and to be accountable themselves.

Because for every Maguindanao massacre or every act passed in Cape Town, there were, or are, bishops concealing child rape by their clergy. (Even the liberal Episcopal Church in the USA is not immune from that–look up the Nevada case.)

Impunity is indeed attributed to governments, but it is also something that characterizes some of the behavior of elites of any sort, economic, social, religious, or political. If that is the case, our silence about this is complicity–especially those of us who are part of the intelligentsia.

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