[An article in the January 16, 1998 edition of CNI News titled "Views Vary on Pardon for Heads of UFO Cover-up" prompted one reader to submit significant insights derived from the experience of several African nations that are now making the transition from oppressive dictatorship to democratic government. Diana Cammack, Ph.D., (Cammack@eo.wn.apc.org) lives and works in Central Africa as a consultant to various UN agencies and organizations concerned with human rights issues. Excerpts from her letter follow, published with permission.]
By Diana Cammack, Ph.D.
I was struck by the similarity of the debate [on pardon for UFO cover-up officials] and the discussions surrounding "truth commissions" in various third world states. Last year I was involved with some local and international human rights activists and the Robert Kennedy Center for Human Rights in bringing to Malawi [south-central Africa] a number of experts on truth commissions from Latin America, Africa, Haiti, US, UK etc. We held a meeting here in an effort to get Malawians to think about the issues and perhaps form their own truth commission to investigate the past so as not to repeat it. The issues raised might be of significance to the UFO/pardon debate.
In the case of a truth commission, people must first ask themselves exactly what they want from a commission. For instance, is it to achieve "justice"? This has generally been proven to be illusive and is in any event hard to define. Is it for retribution -- to ensure that perpetrators are punished? Is it to ensure that certain actions -- in the third world this includes genocide, ethnic cleansing, rape, confiscation of property, unlawful detentions, etc -- do not happen again? Is it to inform the pulbic of hidden structures of power and secret events, to set the record straight and ensure that history is not (re)written to support one point of view to the detriment of the truth? Is there a quest by victims for some sort of compensation? And, fundamentally, is it necessary for society to know the truth to move forward and to heal?
A number of other questions present themselves depending on the answers to the first. For instance, if there is no need to ensure that the public is accurately informed of the events in question (i.e., no desire to set the record straight), all hearings can be closed and out of the public purview. Or if there is no desire to bring abusers to justice or to punish them, there is no need to name them publicly, or to have them testify openly. If compensation is possible, should it be sought through the courts or should a special mechanism (linked to the commission) be established? How do the courts (or a compensation tribunal) determine what compensation should be given -- on what criteria do they judge what is fair? How do they balance whatever motives generated secret operations and the cover-up with the pain and suffering of victims?
Perhaps [there are] some similarities between these investigations of the past and the current debate on the UFO pardon. Certainly some structure should be imposed on the debate, and I would suggest that structured questions might be developed by looking more closely at the discussions about truth commissions.
I also suggest that consideration be given to the South African Truth Commission model, which is innovative (in international terms) and somewhat successful. In South Africa, the commission has the power to subpoena witnesses. While it has no power to try or to sentence people, the courts may do so. For example, ex-President Botha has said he will not come before the commission to talk about certain events and structures during the apartheid era. He is soon to be taken to court for refusing to do so.
Secondly, people who do come to the commission and confess their "politically motivated" actions -- beating to death anti-apartheid activists like Steve Biko, for instance -- can receive a pardon after telling all and asking to be forgiven. Those who do not -- who hide from the commission or refuse to testify -- can be charged for their crimes. What is so special about the South Africa model is that, unlike in Latin American states, people have queued up to testify because they know they can get a pardon. This has ensured that more "truth" about the past in South Africa is known than in Latin America. Also, politicians with unsavoury pasts are unable to run for office again.
[Editorial comment: As noted in the previous issue of CNI News, it is highly questionable whether admissions or disclosures of an official UFO cover-up can be expected any time soon. But if such admissions or disclosures are ever to occur, they must do so within a rational, ethical and disciplined framework that addresses the kinds of questions raised by Dr. Cammack. Thus, CNI News will support continuing debate and discussion on these potentially important issues.]
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