09 July 2009

SAHA form part of an NGO coalition against dispensation of Presidential Pardons

SAHA is part of an NGO coalition that has opposed the presidential pardoning process that was initiated by former president Thabo Mbeki in November of 2007. The pardons process was intended to be a means of resolving the unfinished business of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).

Only people who had committed politically motivated crimes were eligible to be pardoned in this latest pardoning process. However, unlike the TRC, full disclosure (or any disclosure for that matter) by pardon applicants was not a condition of receiving pardon. Nor was it written into the pardoning process that victims (or their families) of those who have applied for pardon had to be given an opportunity to contribute to the process. It is this in particular, as well as the secretive manner in which pardons have been handled by the Presidency, that the coalition objected to.

Victim participation was a fundamental component of the TRC. If pardons were to be issued without victims being given an opportunity to contribute to the decision making process, in addition to depriving victims of their rights, it would be contrary to the spirit of the TRC. With these factors in mind the NGO collation took objection to the proposed manner in which presidential pardons were to be issued.

The coalition started off by trying to persuade the Presidential Pardons Reference Group (PPRG) - a committee set up by President Mbeki to advise him on pardons, comprised of one representative from each of the parties represented in parliament - that recommendations on pardons should not be made if victims have not been given the opportunity to influence the decision to pardon. The PPRG were unwilling to take the coalitions suggestion on board, which forced the coalition to have to lobby the president on the matter. Although president Motlanthe initially indicated that no pardons would be granted until he had consulted with the victims of those who had applied for pardon, the then president subsequently regressed, and was on the verge of issuing pardons before the coalition launched an urgent interdict to prevent him from doing so.

In the arising court case, which was heard in the Pretoria High Court in April of this year, Judge Seriti ruled that it was indeed unconstitutional and a violation of victims rights for pardons to be issued without the victims being given an opportunity to contribute to the process. Seriti also prohibited the President from issuing any pardons for political offences until a full court hearing on the matter has occurred.

A date for the final court hearing is yet to be set.

The six organisations that compromise the NGO coalition are: SAHA; the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation (CSVR); the International Centre for Transitional Justice (ICTJ); the Khulumani Support Group; the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation (IJR); the Human Rights Media Centre (HRMC) and the Freedom of Expression Institute (FXI).