President Kibaki this week said that while they seek justice for the crimes committed in the aftermath of last year’s General Election, Kenyans should keep in mind that justice has to be tempered with forgiveness. With due respect, I wish to differ with him. The President’s stand is ill-timed as well as theologically and legally misleading.

Since the President is a Catholic, I wish to analyse the issue of justice and forgiveness in the words of the Church and the scriptures. The doctrine of tempering justice with forgiveness has been evangelised by many Christian theologians, most notably by Pope John Paul II.

In his homily during a pastoral visit to Frosinone on September 16, 2001, the Pope said: “Pardon is the Joy of God even before it becomes the Joy of Man.” He talked also of “Dives in Misericordia” and “The mercy of God” as a guiding principle.

However, the theology of forgiveness is much more complex than we lay people may interpret it. In his various homilies, Pope John Paul may be mistaken by the laity as calling for an end to punishment, and the adoption of forgiveness as the mandatory reaction to sin and crime. In his message entitled No Peace Without Justice, No Justice Without Forgiveness, delivered during the celebration of the World Day of Peace in 2002, the Pope explained that forgiveness “is not a proposal that can be immediately understood or easily accepted; in many ways, it is a paradoxical message”.

He did not mean to compromise truth and punishment, and he must not be understood as such. The scriptures themselves do not require us as human beings to set wrong-doers free. Theologically, there is no contradiction between punishment and forgiveness.

Speaking on a similar occasion in 1980, Pope John Paul said: “The desire for peace does not cause the man of peace to shut his eyes to the tension, injustice and strife that are part of our world. He looks at them squarely. He calls them by their proper name, out of respect for truth. “Murder must be called by its proper name: murder is murder, political or ideological motives do not change its nature…The massacre of men and women, whatever their race, age or position, must be called by its proper name. Torture must be called by its proper name; and, with the appropriate qualifications, so must all other forms of oppression and exploitation of man by man, of man by State, of one people by another people”.

In an encyclical on the value and inviolability of human life, issued on March 25, 1995, the Pope, while discussing the murder of Abel by his brother Cain, says: “But God cannot leave the crime unpunished: from the ground on which it is spilt, the blood of the one murdered demands that God should render justice. From this text the Church has taken the name of the ‘sins which cry to God for Justice,’ and first among them, she has included willful murder… Life, especially human life, belongs only to God; for this reason, whoever attacks human life, in some ways attacks God himself”.

Theologically, therefore, President Kibaki is wrong to use the word “forgiveness” over the implementation of the Waki report’s recommendations.

The head of State should be guided in his approach to this issue by two teachings. In 2 Samuel 12:10-15 where, though he is reassured that the Lord has taken away his sin, David is still punished by God. “Out of your household I am going to bring calamity on you”. God forgives him but still punishes him. This shows that punishment and forgiveness can co-exist.

Pope John Paul, in a 1995 letter, said: “The Lord said to Cain: ‘What have you done? The voice of your brother in blood is crying to me from the Ground’ (Gen 4:10). The voice of the blood shed by men continues to cry out, from generation to generation, in ever new and different ways.”

The Lord’s question, “What have you done?” which Cain cannot escape, is addressed also to the people of today to make them realise the gravity of the attacks against life, which continue to mark human history.

The President must call up all the suspects and ask them, in the name of God: “What have you done?” Otherwise it may be the President himself who will have to answer the question the day he goes before God for his final judgment.

The position of the law in respect of justice is captured by the Latin phrase, Fiat justitia ruat caelum, ot let justice be done, though the heavens fall. This doctrine was first laid down in 43BC by a Roman statesman and Julius Caesar’s father-in-law called Lucius Calpurnius Piso Caesoninus. It has always been used to show that justice must be pure and free from extraneous considerations.

It does not matter, therefore, if punishing the murderers is going to cause the grand coalition’s collapse. If that happens because justice has been upheld, so be it. In fact, if the coalition is being held together by the blood of  innocent Kenyans, then it is evil and diabolical, and it should collapse.

This is the kind of justice the victims of politically motivated ethnic violence in Kenya demand from the President. They want the truth, free from political colouring. As the Pope said, they want murder called by its proper name without political or ideological motives.

If there is to be any forgiveness, it is the victims to forgive. In his 2002 homily, Pope John Paul said that “forgiveness, as a fully human act, is above all a personal initiative”. It is the prerogative of the victim.

Thus, the President has no right to forgive a person for killing another. Only God has that power and prerogative. Indeed, it is the President’s solemn, divine duty to punish people who have murdered, because he swore on the Holy Bible before the nation that he would uphold and protect the Constitution of Kenya, and because the scriptures require him to fight for the oppressed.

Psalm 72 says: “Endow the King with your Justice O God… He will judge your people in righteousness; your afflicted ones with justice. He will defend the afflicted among the people and save the children of the needy; he will crush the oppressor.”

President Kibaki is today in the same dilemma as Pontius Pilate when he had to decide the fate of Jesus Christ. And, like Pilate, he is presenting to us murderer Barabbas and asking us to make a choice. But this is not a matter for the popular view. The obligation to administer justice remains in the President‘s bossom, regardless of the popularity of the view to free Barabbas.

And much as justice did not absolve Pontius Pilate that the people chose to crucify Jesus Christ and free Barabbas, it would not absolve the President before God on the day of his judgment should the people choose to forgive murderers.

The victims of the politically motivated tribal murders since 1992 are looking up to the President for justice. He can either hear their cries and allow their souls to finally rest in peace, or betray his divine duty, forgive the murderers and kill the victims twice. The choice is exclusively his.

Mr Mwangi is a Nairobi-based lawyer