Pardons for political crimes

2007-11-21 00:00

Cape Town - In a bid to deal with the “unfinished business” of South Africa's past, President Thabo Mbeki yesterday announced that he will consider requests for presidential pardons from people who have been convicted for offences they claim were politically motivated - and who were not denied amnesty by the TRC.

Addressing a joint sitting of Parliament, Mbeki said individuals who were convicted of political offences before June 16, 1999 may apply for a pardon during a three-month “window of opportunity” from January 15.

Mbeki said he hopes this will contribute to continuing efforts towards national reconciliation and nation-building and help break with matters arising from the conflicts of the past.

“It is indeed an indication of the deep scars inflicted by our painful past that 13 years after the attainment of our freedom we still have to grapple with matters of persons who committed offences that might be categorised as political, creating the possibility that we can be accused of having political prisoners,” Mbeki said.

He said that in a further bid towards unity, political parties represented in Parliament will be asked to appoint a representative to serve on a reference group that will consider the requests for pardon and make recommendations to the president.

Mbeki said the proposed process will be of limited duration.

He said it is important that the process does not in any way undermine the processes and outcomes of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) process.

He said pardons will only take place where there is a full disclosure of facts and where it is clear the transgressions were perpetrated with a political objective.

Mbeki said the government is in possession of at least 1 062 applications for presidential pardons for crimes with a political motive.

“Government is of the firm conviction that we cannot resolve the matter by setting up yet another amnesty process, which in effect would mean suspending constitutional rights of those who were at the receiving end of gross human rights violations,” he said.

Mbeki said applicants who were convicted of sexual or domestic violence crimes or drug dealing offences will not qualify for consideration.

Democratic Alliance Justice spokesman Tertius Delport welcomed the move, as did Independent Democrats leader Patricia de Lille and the United Democratic Movement.

Inkatha Freedom Party chief whip Koos van der Merwe welcomed the move but with “mixed feelings”.

“We deplore the fact that it took the minister of Justice seven years to devise a framework to consider pardons for politically motivated crimes,” he said.

Van der Merwe said that, for ANC supporters, there was a framework in place and they were given presidential pardons. “But for IFP supporters there is no framework in place and there has not even been any consideration of their applications for four long years. In addition, the Human Rights Commission has already found that the human rights of the IFP prisoners were violated.”

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