New chance for political offenders

People convicted of alleged political offences before June 16 1999 will be able to apply for a presidential pardon during a three-month “window of opportunity” from January 15, President Thabo Mbeki announced on Wednesday.

Addressing a joint sitting of Parliament, he said in the interests of nation-building, national reconciliation and enhancing national cohesion, as well as breaking with matters arising from the conflicts of the past, consideration had been given to using presidential pardons to deal with the so-called “unfinished business” of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) process.

The May 10 1994 cut-off date for offences that could be considered by the TRC’s amnesty committee did not take into consideration that political violence, especially in certain areas such as KwaZulu-Natal, persisted well beyond that cut-off date, he said.

“Therefore, once the TRC had finished its business, we still had a number of issues, such as the question of amnesty for many South Africans who had not participated in the TRC process for a number of reasons, which had to be finalised.

“It thus became clear that the so-called ‘unfinished business’ of the TRC would have to be finished in one way or another,” Mbeki said.

For some time since 2000, the government had been seized by the challenge to close the vexing matter of those prisoners serving sentences for what might be considered to be politically motivated crimes of the kind that fell within the brief of the TRC amnesty committee.

“With regard to these matters, it is important that our actions do not, in any way, undermine or suggest that any attempt is being made to undermine the TRC process and its outcomes.”

Currently, the government was in possession of at least 1 062 applications for presidential pardons by people who had been found guilty of offences that were allegedly committed with a political motive, arising from the conflicts of the past.

A special process would be instituted to help him discharge his constitutional obligation to consider requests for pardons from people convicted for offences they claimed to be “among the category of offences that were considered by the TRC Amnesty Committee”.

“This process will cover the requests for pardon of those people convicted for offences they claim were politically motivated, and who were not denied amnesty by the TRC.”

Further to entrench the practice the nation had sought to cultivate, of acting in unity as it addressed the crimes of the past, political parties represented in Parliament should assist him in considering the requests, Mbeki said.

“I therefore take this opportunity to request the political parties represented in this Parliament each to appoint a representative who would serve on a reference group that would consider each of the requests for pardon which the president would refer to the group, and then make its considered recommendations to the president.”

The constitutional task to grant pardons would remain with the president.

‘Limited duration’

However, the president would seriously take into account the recommendations made by the reference group, respecting the effort the nation had made to unite behind the objective of responding to the conflicts of the past, in the interest of promoting the critical objectives of national reconciliation and nation-building, he said.

“The process we are proposing will be of limited duration.

“It will have to be strictly managed in terms of the mechanisms and procedures which are to be put in place to ensure that the requests for pardon for the category of persons we have mentioned are dealt with in an open and transparent manner, uniformly and in strict compliance with predetermined procedures and criteria.

“During a three-month ‘window of opportunity,’ covering the period January 15 to April 15 2008, persons who were convicted for offences they believe were of the nature of the offences considered by the TRC during the period up to June 16 1999, will have the opportunity to apply for a presidential pardon in the prescribed manner, if they have not already done so.”

Applicants who were convicted for involvement in any offence of a sexual nature, or any act of a domestic-violence nature, or any offence referred to in section 13 of the Drugs and Drug Trafficking Act, which related to the manufacture and supply of scheduled substances, the use and possession of drugs and dealing in drugs, would not qualify for consideration.

“In order to ensure that we do not undermine the work of the TRC, applicants who had applied to the amnesty committee established under the TRC Act, and whose application for amnesty was refused, will not be considered for this presidential pardon process,” Mbeki said.—Sapa

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