South Africa’s experience confronting the legacies of apartheid has played a significant role in the development of the transitional justice field. However, accountability for many issues has yet to be achieved. ICTJ works there to support victims’ rights and challenge impunity for perpetrators.
More than forty years of apartheid cast a long shadow of human rights violations, including massacres, torture, lengthy imprisonment of activists, and crippling racial discrimination.
Nelson Mandela’s release in 1990—after 27 years in prison—led to negotiations between South Africa’s apartheid government and the African National Congress, and elections in 1994.
In 1995, the South African Parliament mandated the establishment of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). The TRC’s report, published in 1998, included testimony from over 22,000 victims and witnesses. More than 2,000 testified at public hearings.
But most efforts to achieve accountability for crimes committed during apartheid have failed:
On 2008, the Pretoria High Court declared the Prosecution Policy’s amendments unconstitutional. In 2010, the Constitutional Court upheld victims’ rights to be consulted before political pardons were granted.
Despite these victories, not a single case recommended for prosecution is before the courts today. And victims have complained that the consultation process undertaken so far isn’t meaningful.
In 2002, the Khulumani Support Group, a South African victims' organization, sued 23 multinational corporations, including Ford Motor Company, General Motors, and IBM, in a United States court, seeking civil damages for their role in mass human rights violations during apartheid.
In 2007, in a landmark ruling, the U.S. court allowed them to present their claims for compensation. As of March 2011, the court is considering an application by the corporations to dismiss the suit on the claim that customary international law does not provide for corporate liability for violations of international human rights law.