S. African truth commission says its amnesty may be illegal Action on 37 ANC leaders violated previous policies


JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- Acknowledging that it may have gone far outside the law in granting a blanket amnesty to top officials of South Africa's ruling government, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission said yesterday that it would submit its decision to a court for review.

vTC The amnesty, granted last month to 37 leaders of the African National Congress, including Deputy President Thabo Mbeki, immediately drew fire from South Africa's other political parties.

They pointed out that the amnesty was unlike any other issued by the commission. The applicants had never been called on to explain themselves in public, nor had they confessed to any individual human rights violations. Yet, they were granted an amnesty that protected them from all criminal and civil liability.

The commission also veered from its usual format by failing to publicly explain its decision. All previous amnesty rulings spelled out the committee's thinking. But this one was merely a one-paragraph statement.

Those who were granted amnesty included five Cabinet officials and several deputy ministers, some of whom were key players in the ANC's anti-apartheid guerrilla activities.

In announcing the panel's decision to submit the amnesties for review, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the chairman of the Truth and Reconciliation Committee, said the commissioners had voted unanimously to turn to the courts and would abide by whatever decision was handed down.

"We have carefully considered our own concerns in this regard, together with an appreciation of the clear public interest that exists," the archbishop said.

Amnesties are granted by an independent subcommittee of the commission, which does not consult with commissioners in making its decisions.

But the guidelines for amnesty dictate that applicants must confess all and must demonstrate that they had a legitimate political motive for their actions.

The incident is particularly embarrassing for the commission because it has so often been called biased by other political parties.

Whites, in particular, have said the commission is engaged in a "witch hunt" intended to make the former white supremacist government look bad.

Pub Date: 1/14/98

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