Limiting the Reach of Amnesty for Political Crimes: Which Extra-Legal Burdens on the Guilty does National Reconciliation Permit?

Constitutional Court Review 3:243-270 (2011)
Suppose that it can be right to grant amnesty from criminal and civil liability to those guilty of political crimes in exchange for full disclosure about them. There remains this important question to ask about the proper form that amnesty should take: Which additional burdens, if any, should the state lift from wrongdoers in the wake of according them freedom from judicial liability? I answer this question in the context of a recent South African Constitutional Court case that considered whether an officer having been granted amnesty for apartheid-era killings should be held to mean that the police force may not discharge him on the ground of having been convicted of a serious offence. The Court ruled that, despite amnesty having been granted to the guilty officer, the police force was permitted to discharge him. I distinguish the major ethical reasons the Court gives for its conclusion, which ultimately appeal to the value of national reconciliation, and I argue not only that the reconciliation-based rationales rest on empirical contingencies for which there is little evidence, but also that their logic in fact provides some reason to reject the Court’s conclusion. Then, I sketch an attractive new theory of right action, grounded on salient sub-Saharan values often associated with talk of ‘ubuntu’, that I maintain provides a stronger, unitary foundation for the Court’s key pronouncements. I conclude by discussing some of the broader implications of the moral theory for related matters, such as the rights of victims in the processes leading up to presidential pardons of those who have committed atrocities and the duties of newspapers with regard to the reputations of the latter.
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