De Klerk seeks broad power to pardon apartheid crimes

October 17, 1992|By Jerelyn Eddings | Jerelyn Eddings,Johannesburg Bureau

CAPE TOWN, South Africa -- The South African government yesterday proposed legislation to give President F. W. de Klerk sweeping powers to pardon security force agents and public figures for undisclosed apartheid crimes.

The measure, which is certain to pass the white-dominated Parliament controlled by Mr. de Klerk's National Party, would allow government agents who committed political murders and other capital crimes to get off by appealing to a council appointed by the president and operating in secret.

Justice Minister Kobie Coetsee told a news conference, "The purpose of the legislation is . . . to be even-handed for all regardless of their political affiliation."

But critics saw it as an attempt by the white-minority government to clear its own agents and bury the evidence of their crimes before a new democratic government is established.

"The state president and his minister of justice are to receive unfettered powers to set the rules, appoint the advisory council, suppress disclosure and pass judgment," said Brian Currin of Lawyers for Human Rights, an independent monitoring group based in Pretoria.

"The only positive aspect of this bill is that it is a public admission by the state that its agents committed crimes in pursuance of its political objectives."

The measure is expected to be approved next week before the end of the 10-day special session of Parliament.

The session was originally called to facilitate a speedy transition to an interim government to replace the white-minority regime.

Carl Niehaus, an African National Congress spokesman, said the organization is opposed to any unilateral state action to grant amnesty to political offenders, including soldiers and police officers.

He said the issue should be left for a multi-racial, multi-party interim government to resolve.

Under the terms of the bill, no one would be allowed to disclose any evidence or information submitted to the advisory council.

There is no provision for the council's records to be preserved.

The amnesty issue has been controversial because the ANC believes the government is trying to cover up its apartheid crimes.

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