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Court Clears Way for Prosecution of Cases from Apartheid Era in South Africa

Written on:May 5, 2009
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By Comfort Ero, Cape Town

A court decision today confirming the obligation of prosecutors in South Africa to investigate cases from the apartheid era, especially those involving persons who have been denied amnesty, will help guarantee justice for victims, the International Center for Transitional Justice said.

“The ruling upholds a key democratic principle that when there is sufficient evidence to prosecute, prosecutors should act,” said Juan E. Méndez, president of ICTJ. “The court is telling the National Prosecution Authority that it must fulfill its constitutional obligations to prosecute deserving cases from the conflicts of the past.”

In its ruling, the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria dismissed a request for permission to appeal by the National Director of Public Prosecutions and the Minister of Justice against a ruling by the High Court in December 2008 that overturned several amendments to South Africa’s Prosecution Policy. The new policywould have allowed the National Prosecution Authority to grant indemnities to
persons who had not been granted amnesty by South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation
Commission. A coalition of civil society groups, including ICTJ, argued that the
change undermined the integrity of the truth and reconciliation process, undermined
the independence of prosecutors and infringed the rights of victims.

Today’s ruling comes less than a week after the High Court blocked South Africa’s president from granting pardons for political offenses until victims are permitted to be heard in the proceedings.

“After so many years of delay, victims deserve their day in court, and these decisions are important steps toward that goal,” Méndez said. “As of today, the prosecutors can do their work.”

The coalition of civil society organizations includes the Khulumani Support Group, the Center for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation and ICTJ, who acted in support of two victims’ groups. They were represented by the Legal Resources Center.

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