Debate on amnesty for poll chaos rages on
Published on May 30, 2008, 12:00 am
By Abiya Ochola, Cyrus Ombati and James Ratemo
The amnesty debate for suspects held over the post-election chaos has refused to go away.
And it continues to divide the coalition Government. As Prime Minister Raila Odinga repeated calls for the release of youths yesterday, Justice and Constitutional Affairs minister, Ms Martha Karua, reiterated that blanket amnesty was out of question.
And Internal Security minister, Prof George Saitoti, differed with Raila on how to deal with the Mungiki sect. He told the followers of the banned sect to respect the rule of law or be dealt with ruthlessly.
Raila said amnesty for the youths was out of the question allegedly because the demonstrators were not guilty of any wrongdoing.
“I do not believe in the calls for amnesty. Amnesty presupposes some element of guilt and you are asking to be pardoned. The youth never committed any crime. Is it a crime in Kenya to fight for your democratic right? Is it a crime to demonstrate against a rigged election?” asked the Prime Minister.
Raila said the unconditional release of those arrested over the riots was the best way forward.
“I am calling for their unconditional release,” he said.
Speaking in Nairobi, Raila said the Cabinet had discussed the matter and mandated the Attorney-General, Mr Amos Wako, to deal with it.
He said the AG had the responsibility to draw the line between protesting over a denied right and a criminal act.
“This matter should not be dealt with by ministers or politicians because they are partisan,” he said.
However, Karua was at war with leaders fronting for blanket amnesty of post-election violence perpetrators.
The minister said the law should take its full course and only the Judiciary should “separate the guilty from the innocent”.
“Let them own up to their offences to facilitate forgiveness and reconciliation. When you reward impunity of whatever nature, it cannot lead to lasting peace,” she said.
Speaking at the opening of a three-day post-election peace building symposium at the Catholic University of Eastern Africa in Nairobi yesterday, Karua said only those involved in minor offences would be treated leniently.
She added: “Our law does not recognise executive amnesty for criminal offences before trial nor does it contemplate amnesty. The prerogative of mercy can only be exercised by the President after the accused person has been convicted.”
Karua further said the post-election crisis had brought to the fore ethical, legal and practical questions on how the country should be governed.