Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

South Africa Creates Commission to Judge Apartheid-Era Crimes Indemnity from Prosecution May Be Granted in Return for Disclosure

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

South Africa Creates Commission to Judge Apartheid-Era Crimes Indemnity from Prosecution May Be Granted in Return for Disclosure

Article excerpt

HUMAN rights organizations have hailed the decision by South Africa's government of national unity to set up a Commission of Truth and Reconciliation to deal with political offenses committed during the apartheid era.

"I welcome the emphasis on disclosure and acknowledgment by the state," says Alex Boraine, director of the Institute for a Democratic Alternative for South Africa, a pro-democracy group that had been calling for a truth commission.

Justice Minister Dullah Omar said Tuesday that in the case of "gross violations of human rights," the identity of the victims and the perpetrators - and a detailed account of what happened - would be revealed.

"I think it will ensure that we do not make the same mistakes again, and that the rule of law will be protected," Mr. Boraine says, noting that the commission would have the power to make recommendations on compensation to victims of human rights abuses.

But right-wing groups have condemned the government plan and warned that any discrimination against the right wing in the granting of amnesty and indemnity from prosecution would not lead to peace in the country.

President Nelson Mandela, who has been criticized by some of his followers for negotiating with the right wing, vowed on Tuesday to continue talks with right-wing groups about an Afrikaner homeland and other issues.

"Our obligation is to draw their attention to those issues that bind us, not separate us," he said at a ceremony in Johannesburg, where he received a peace award.

Jakkie Cilliers, director of the Institute for Defense Politics in Johannesburg, says he welcomes the proposed commission and does not think it would create "undue anxiety" in the ranks of the security forces.

"I think it is a good thing that government has taken a decision and ended the speculation," Mr. Cilliers says. "But I fear that it could develop into a witch hunt for those who carried out actions under orders rather than those who gave the orders."

Boraine says it was unlikely that security force members would come forward in large numbers, but they could be implicated by third parties who had knowledge of their crimes and were granted indemnity from prosecution. If implicated parties had not come forward by the cut-off date for applications, their names could be forwarded to the attorney general by the commission for consideration for prosecution, he says.

"Those who fail to come forward by the cut-off date for applications will be subject to prosecution," says Paula McBride of the Lawyers for Human Rights in Pretoria. …

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