22 October 2010

Developments in pardons process

On 18 October 2010 the Department of Justice published the names of 149 convicted criminals recommended for presidential pardon. Persons on the list include serial killers and persons who have engaged in crimes such as theft and robbery with aggravating circumstances. For example, two individuals on the list were convicted of 21 murders each.

In accordance with the special dispensation created by former president Thabo Mbeki in 2007, persons in prison for politically motivated offences committed before 16 June 1999 or released from prison after having committed offences of a political nature may qualify for a presidential pardon.

However, in accordance with a decision of the Constitutional Court on 23 February 2010 victims of an offence are entitled to be heard before the President makes a decision to grant a pardon under the special dispensation. Victims have only 30 days in which to inform the Presidency in writing that they wish to make a representation in relation to any proposed pardon. On receipt of such notice the Department of Justice will write to victims requesting a statement indicating whether or not the victim considers that the offence committed was politically motivated and whether or not they support the application for pardon and why.

The information provided by the Department of Justice to date gives no indication of whether victims will be supplied with the relevant application for pardon or the reasons that the offender has been recommended for pardon. Without such information it is difficult to see how victims can make sensible and useful representations.

A coalition of NGOs for transitional justice (which includes SAHA, the Khulumani Support Group, the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation, the Legal Resources Centre, the International Centre for Transitional Justice, the Human Rights Media Centre, the Freedom of Expression Institute and the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation) are undertaking a number of activities to assist victims to participate in the process. These activities include, requesting information relevant to the pardon applications under the Promotion of Access to Information Act, seeking clarification of the process from the State Attorney and meeting with victims to assist them with the process.