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Defining Political Crimes: A Case Study of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Bhargava, Anurima
June 4, 2015

Source: (2002) Columbia Law Review. 102:1304.

In this paper, Anurima Bhargava examines the South African Truth and Reconciliation’s (TRC) practice of granting amnesty for injustices and abuses committed in the period of apartheid. Amnesty was to be granted in exchange for truth – that is, disclosure of the act or acts by the perpetrator. Moreover, it was limited to acts committed for political objectives. Bhargava begins from the position that amnesty was a necessary predicate to South Africa’s peaceful transition to democracy. Yet Bhargava faults the process of considering and granting amnesty in the following regard. In determining whether an act was committed for political objectives, the TRC was supposed to consider a number of factors. In practice, the TRC focused primarily on whether the act was undertaken on the order of, on behalf of, the state or an established political organization. Bhargav contends that the overemphasis on this one factor resulted in decisions that undermined the express goals of the amnesty process. This, in effect, failed to provide a viable definition of political crimes that could be used by future countries in transition.


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