Mauritius Truth and Justice Commission

The Mauritius Truth and Justice Commission

Mauritius:

Truth and Justice Commission

NAME OF MECHANISM

Truth and Justice Commission (Commission Justice et Vérité)

PERIOD OF OPERATION

August 2008 – present. The commission was established in August 2008 and officially started its work on 1 February 2009. Its mandate stipulates the length of operation as 24 months, with a preparatory period of three months. The president may extend the operations of the commission by an additional six months.

MANDATE AND OPERATIONS

Mandate: Established by Mauritian President Sir Anerood Jugnauth, according to the Truth and Justice Commission Act of 2008, to “conduct inquiries into slavery and indentured labour in Mauritius during the colonial period.” The commission “may, for that purpose, gather information and receive evidence from any person; determine appropriate measures to be extended to descendants of slaves and indentured labourers; enquire into a complaint, other than a frivolous and vexatious complaint, made by any person aggrieved by a dispossession or prescription of any land in which he claims he had an interest and; prepare a comprehensive report of its activities and findings, based on factual and objective information and evidence received by it and submit the report to the President of the Republic.”

Staff: Five commissioners. Originally chaired by South African Prof. Robert Shell, it has been chaired by South African Prof. Alex Boraine since 2010. The other commissioners are Dr. Vijaya Teelock (vice chair), Dr. Parmaseeven Pillay Veerapen, Mr. Lindsay Morvan and Mr. Benjamin Moutou.

RESOURCES

Truth and Justice Commission Act [2008] Government of Mauritius official website

RESULTS

Since the commission began in 2008 to investigate ways to improve the situation of the descendants of slaves and indentured labourers, much of its work has focused on issues of land ownership in Mauritius, with many descendants arguing that their ancestors were deprived of their land unlawfully. In August 2010, it was reported that of the 350 cases registered by the commission, the majority were land claims [L’Express | 25 Aug 2010].

In March 2010, the commission heard former Minister Kishore Deerpalsing, an advocate for victims of extrajudicial dispossessions of land. Deerpalsing testified about abuses of land rights, mainly under the French and British, stating that the current unequal distribution of land in Mauritius has roots in the poor management of land ownership regulations in the colonial era, which ultimately resulted in numerous indentured labourers losing their right to land [Matinal | 20 Mar 2010].

In March 2011, Dr. Vijaya Teelock noted that while land issues were the commission’s main focus in 2010, it would focus on “other problems faced by the people” in 2011. By that point, the commission had held more than 100 public hearings on the islands of Mauritius and Rodrigues [Independent | 25 Mar 2011].

In April 2011, Prime Minister Navin Ragoolam made a statement concerning the land question, affirming that the illegal dispossession of land was a violation of slaves’ and indentured labourers’ fundamental rights. He said that he expects the final report of the Truth and Justice Commission to aid in curbing the ongoing unlawful appropriation of land. He also noted, however, that the two years allotted for the commission’s work is insufficient time to investigate a system that dates back 300 years [Matinal | 12 Apr 2011].

Much of the criticism of the commission centres on the fact that while it has been encouraged to determine the truth about the past, the issue of compensation and reparations to the descendants of victims has largely been avoided by the government. Some have also suggested that having a non-national at the head of the commission is problematic [Lalit | Nov 2009].

BACKGROUND

Mauritius remained uninhabited until the end of the 17th century, when Dutch settlers brought slaves from the East Indies and Madagascar to work on the island. Slavery continued under France in the 18th century, when slaves were brought from the west coast of Africa. At the peak of slavery, Mauritius had 66,000 slaves from Africa, India and Malaysia [Global Citizen | 19 Sep 2009]. Slaves were not liberated until February 1835, when slavery was abolished throughout the British Empire, which took the island in 1810.

In 1816, a group of Indian convicts were brought to Mauritius to work in construction. In 1829, Mauritian planters introduced Indian contract labourers for the development of the sugar industry. The indentured labourers were often mistreated and, in 1909, the importation of Indian labour to Mauritius was stopped on the recommendation of a committee appointed by the secretary of state for the colonies [Mauritius Post | 2001].

In 2008, the government of Mauritius decided to “research and repay injustices of the past carried out on the island by its colonial masters centuries ago” through the Truth and Justice Commission. According to Prof. Boraine, however, it is not enough to “expand opportunities for just a small section of the Mauritius society,” as “most of the Creole community feel hard done-by by successive governments” [News Now | 2010]. The government elected to base the commission on the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

 

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Research South Africa

The South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission

South Africa:

Truth and Reconciliation Commission

NAME OF MECHANISM

Truth and Reconciliation Commission

PERIOD OF OPERATION

July 1995 – March 2003. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was established in July 1995 and began operations on 16 December 1995. The TRC final report (volumes 1–5) was presented to President Nelson Mandela on 29 October 1998. The commission’s mandate was extended that year to allow for the conclusion of the amnesty process, and the final two volumes were released on 21 March 2003.

MANDATE AND OPERATIONS

Mandate: Established by Promotion of National Unity and Reconciliation Act 34 of 1995 to investigate gross human rights violations (abductions, killings, torture and severe ill treatment) committed by state actors and liberation movements between 21 March 1960 and 10 May 1994, to provide amnesty to individuals who applied and who fulfilled the criteria, and to recommend reparations to victims.

The commission also held special hearings focused on specific sectors, institutions and individuals. The commission had the power to search premises and seize evidence, subpoena witnesses and run a witness protection program.

Staff: Seventeen commissioners and up to 300 additional staff members. The commissioners were Archbishop Desmond Tutu (Chairperson), Dr. Alex Boraine (Vice-Chairperson), Ms. Mary Burton, Advocate Chris de Jager, Rev. Bongani Finca, Ms. Sisi Khampepe, Mr. Richard Lyster, Mr. Wynand Malan, Rev. Dr. Khoza Mgojo, Ms. Hlengiwe Mkhize, Mr. Dumisa Ntsebeza, Dr. Wendy Orr, Advocate Denzil Potgieter, Dr. Mapule F. Ramashala, Dr. Fazel Randera, Ms. Yasmin Sooka and Ms. Glenda Wildschut.

Structure: Three committees. The Human Rights Violations Committee collected statements and recorded evidence, the Amnesty Committee processed individual amnesty applications and the Reparations and Rehabilitation Committee designed and submitted recommendations for a reparations programme.

Budget: US$18 million each year for two and a half years, plus a smaller budget for another three years [Int’l IDEA | 2003].

LATEST UPDATE

In April 2011, the Constitutional Court of South Africa passed judgement on a defamation case brought by the former Ekurhuleni metro police chief, Robert McBride, against the Citizen newspaper. McBride sued the paper for defamation and impairment of dignity after a series of articles and editorials questioned whether he was suitable for the post of police chief in 2003. He had been granted amnesty for his role in bombing a bar in Durban in 1986, which resulted in the deaths of three women. In his appearance in the South Gauteng High Court in 2007, McBride argued that receiving amnesty meant the word “murderer” no longer applied to him. He further argued that, based on the articles, the public would view him as a criminal despite his having been granted amnesty [Citizen | 8 Apr 2011].

According to the rulings of the South Gauteng High Court and, later, of the Supreme Court of Appeal, those who received amnesty through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission should be considered as not having committed the offences for which they were granted amnesty. Consequently, both courts awarded McBride with damages for defamation.

In an attempt to strike a balance between keeping what happened in the apartheid past in the public conscience and ensuring that perpetrators of human rights violations who were granted amnesty will not face accusations that have been expunged from their records, the Constitutional Court overturned the previous judgements and ruled that the Citizen did not defame McBride [Business Day | 8 Apr 2011]. According to the court, the Reconciliation Act under which the amnesties were granted does not make the fact that McBride committed murder untrue. The court found that the Act does not prohibit frank public discussion of McBride’s act as “murder” or him being described as a “criminal” [SABC News | 11 Apr 2011].

RESULTS

The TRC received testimonies from approximately 21,000 victims, of whom about 2,000 appeared at public victim hearings. The TRC received more than 7,000 amnesty applications, of which more than 2,500 were heard at public amnesty hearings. It held 255 public amnesty hearings, which took place over 1,632 days. More than 17,000 victims received urgent interim reparations from the President’s Fund. The final report includes a range of recommendations, including proposals for a reparations programme and for institutional reforms to prevent future abuses.

BACKGROUND

From 1948 to 1990, the South African government instituted apartheid, a system based on racial segregation and repression of non-whites. South Africa’s transition hinged on conditional amnesty, where perpetrators of gross human rights abuses in both the apartheid regime and the liberation movements were granted amnesty provided that they disclosed the full truth of their crimes  to the TRC and could prove that these crimes were politically motivated and proportional to their aim. Perpetrators who chose not to apply for amnesty faced the threat of prosecution [Traces of Truth | 2011], although only a handful of prosecutions of apartheid-era crimes have been pursued in post-TRC South Africa.

 

 

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