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Human Rights Watch expressed support for the decision by the Amnesty Committee of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) of South Africa to deny amnesty to twenty-seven senior leaders of the ruling African National Congress.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission has made the right decision," said Peter Takirambudde, Executive Director of the Africa Division of Human Rights Watch. "The ANC cannot put itself above the law and expect its members to get amnesty if they don't take individual responsibility for their actions."

Yesterday, the Amnesty Committee of the TRC denied amnesty to twenty-seven senior ANC members, including Deputy President Thabo Mbeki, Defense Minister Joe Modise, Foreign Minister Alfred Nzo, Transport Minister Mac Maharaj and Justice Minister Dullah Omar. The ANC leaders had applied for amnesty, claiming collective political and moral responsibility for the decisions and actions taken by the ANC and its guerrilla cadres during the liberation struggle. The Amnesty Committee decided that the amnesty applications were invalid because the leaders had applied as a group for unspecified abuses, rather than as individuals for particular abuses as required under the TRC legislation.

Human Rights Watch also wrote to Deputy President Thabo Mbeki, urging him to reconsider his rejection of the finding of the TRC's Final Report that the ANC had been responsible for grave human rights abuses during the liberation struggle. In the letter, Human Rights Watch urged Mbeki in his capacity as ANC President to accept that the ANC had committed grave human rights abuses, and that the justness of the ANC's cause could not serve to justify these abuses. Human Rights Watch also stated its strong opposition to a proposal by President Mbeki to grant additional amnesties outside the ambit of the TRC's Amnesty hearings. Human Rights Watch commended the ANC for its own internal investigations into human rights abuses, and the general willingness the organization had shown to address its own human rights abuses during the liberation struggle.

"Everyone who wished to apply for amnesty had ample opportunity to do so," said Takirambudde. "Granting repeated amnesties can lead to a culture of impunity, and that is exactly what South Africa needs to avoid."

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