The Labour Party has criticised government proposal for a Reconciliation and Unity Commission as a ploy to pardon key members of the ruling coalition either facing charges, or already sentenced to prison, for coup-related offences.
Opposition Leader Mahendra Chaudhry said while the Labour Party supported genuine national reconciliation, the government proposed Bill was simply a political ploy by the Prime Minister.
The Bill proposes a departure from retributive justice to restorative justice for those convicted of complicity in the May 2000 coup. The government argues that those who had acted out of their traditional and communal obligations should not be treated as common criminals similar to gangs who had looted, plundered and burnt shops in Suva city and remote farming communities.
It is suspected that the Bill is meant to grant a general pardon to all chiefs and political allies of the ruling coalition for their role in overthrowing the democratically elected government of Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry.
Chaudhry said a major objectionable feature of the proposal was the idea of two different sets of justice for the chiefs and other prominent ringleaders of the coup and for the those who went on a spree of burning, looting and destroying at the instigation of these ringleaders.
He said there should be no discrimination in the treatment of people convicted for offences related to the coup and the army mutiny of 2000.
“There cannot be two standards of justice. One set of rules must apply to everyone regardless of their status in society,” he said.
Mr. Chaudhry said he was very concerned that the Prime Minister had wilfully and deliberately misled the nation when he denied that his government was preparing this reconciliation Bill.
“He is now trying to hide behind technicalities. “We are all aware of the true intent and purpose of this proposed Bill. The SDL government is threatened by this continued prosecution, conviction and jailing of key members of its Cabinet.”
This Bill is not intended for the victims of the coup but to accommodate those who planned, financed and executed the overthrow of a democratically elected government in their own vested interests, not in the national interest.
The SDL government has already seriously undermined the rule of law and the judiciary by releasing prisoners jailed for coup-related activities.
On the Prime Minister’s proposal for different sets of justice for different groups, Mr. Chaudhry said the gangs who looted, burnt and plundered were instigated and misguided by the perpetrators of the coup. They had not acted in their own accord.
It is a fact, for example, that Commissioner of Police Isikia Savua had gone around encouraging looters in the city of Suva on 19 May 2000 telling them to hurry up since they had a limited time in which to ransack the shops.
The terror unleashed in Muaniweni and other areas of Naitasiri, and in the North were all carefully orchestrated to coordinate with the overthrow of the government and the takeover of the military camp in Labasa.
Several chiefs and other prominent members of society, were deeply involved in the planning and plotting of the coup, the overthrow of the Peoples Coalition Government and the army mutiny of November 2000.
“The crime they committed was treason, which is a very serious criminal offence under Fiji’s laws.
How can these people be pardoned on the pretext that they were carrying out cultural and traditional obligations? It should not be forgotten that 19 lives were lost through their terrorist acts while thousands suffered severe financial loss and mental trauma,” Mr. Chaudhry said.
“What punishment will be meted out to the financiers of the coup, without whose backing the political mayhem of 2000 would not have been possible, because the CRW soldiers were promised big sums of money?” he asked.
The Opposition Leader said the proposal for a Reconciliation and Unity Commission had come too late. Let the law take its course and the courts decide what punishment should be meted out to those found guilty.
There must be compensation for all those farmers who suffered financial losses as a result of the plundering and ransacking of their homes, vehicles, crops and livestock and vehicles. There must also be compensation for businesses who suffered as a result of the looting, burning and plundering of shops in Suva and in Rakiraki and Labasa towns.
The Opposition Leader said restorative justice did not apply to criminals. It was meant to restore to the people who had lost and suffered through the activities of these terrorists.