South Africa: Timol Inquest Opens New Door to Justice Against Apartheid Atrocities


A powerful legal precedent that promises to see the reopening of other apartheid era crimes has been set in motion thanks to anti-apartheid activist Ahmed Timol's family. They pushed for a new inquiry into Timol's death, in 1971, while in police custody. An inquest held a year later found that he committed suicide while in detention. Now a judge has found that Timol was pushed to his death. The outcome refocuses the spotlight on how societies deal with authoritarian pasts.

In 1989 the Prime Minister of Poland, Tadeusz Mazowiecki, famously called for a "thick line" to separate the past and current political dispensations in Poland. The country was emerging from more than 40 years of communist rule that had been toppled by a popular uprising. Mazowiecki called for those who had been in power to be absolved of responsibility for their crimes to enable Poland to move forward.

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