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19 Mar 2009 17:58
Civil society groups want to stop President Kgalema Motlanthe from granting presidential pardons for political crimes until victims are allowed to have a say.
A coalition of victims and civil society groups filed papers against Motlanthe in the High Court in Pretoria on Thursday.
The case would be heard on April 2, said Hugo van der Merwe, spokesperson for the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation.
“What we would like to see is the court providing clarity when it comes to granting pardons. Essentially we want to make sure, that it’s seen, that the [presidential pardon] processes are unconstitutional,” Van der Merwe said.
He said the group wanted the president to “listen to the victims” of politically motivated crimes during the apartheid era, before actually handing out pardons.
On Wednesday the Freedom of Expression Institute (FXI) said Motlanthe had decided not to give victims or other interested parties the opportunity to participate in the process.
The special pardons process for political crimes could result in more than 100 pardons for apartheid era perpetrators who did not apply for amnesty with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).
The coalition consists of the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation, the International Centre for Transitional Justice, the Khulumani Support Group, the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation, the Human Rights Media Centre, the FXI, the South African History Archives and the Legal Resources Centre.
The FXI said the pardons were being issued under the special pardons process established by former president Thabo Mbeki in 2008 to complete “the unfinished business of the TRC”.
Mbeki created a reference group of political party representatives tasked with recommending to him which convicted offenders should be pardoned.
At the time, he promised that the process would comply with the “principles, criteria, and spirit” of the TRC.
However, while the group did continue the work of the TRC’s erstwhile amnesty committee, it did not adhere to the basic principles and norms established by that process, the FXI said.
“Since February 2008, the coalition has engaged in extensive efforts to persuade the pardons reference group to involve victims in the recommendations process and to allow the public access to the process and the information collected by the reference group.
“When the reference group refused to permit the participation of victims and public access to the proceedings, the coalition and its lawyers then approached the minister of justice and the president.”
The FXI said that on March 13, the Office of the President confirmed that he would consider pardon applications exclusively on the basis of representations made by perpetrators and political parties.
“It appears that the president will very shortly make decisions on which offenders will be granted pardons.
“The president has not disclosed and will not disclose what applications he is considering.
He has refused to give the victims of or other persons affected by the offences in question, an opportunity to make representations as to whether a pardon should be granted, and if so, on what terms,” the FXI said.
“The coalition is disappointed that President Motlanthe appears to take the view that since the Constitution provides him with the power to grant pardons, it does not matter what process is adopted for purposes of processing and recommending pardons; even if such a process is manifestly unfair and constitutionally unsound,” it said.
It had been left with no choice but to bring an urgent court application to interdict Motlanthe from issuing political pardons, it said.
It had also asked, via its lawyers, that he not issue any political pardons pending the final determination of the rights of victims by a court.
Responding on Wednesday, presidential spokesperson Thabo Masebe maintained that the government had not “acted wrongly”, but added that the coalition had a right to go to court and it respected this.
“We will await the decision of the court in this regard,” he said.
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