YOU’RE NEVER TOO OLD TO FACE JUSTICE
Ninety-something-year-olds worldwide are being tried for their political crimes, so what makes Joao Rodrigues think he is too old to face the music?
The arguments he puts forward in an effort to escape prosecution is that he is 79, travelling to Johannesburg from Pretoria for the trial is tiring, he walks with the aid of a walking stick, has diabetes and a heart condition, a fading memory, and should have been tried earlier. I would like to introduce him to an 81-year-old I know who is working two jobs, travelling overseas regularly and never complains.
But more to the point, there have been a series of 90-year-olds in the media lately who are facing trial for their role in crimes committed as long as 78 years ago. This month a 94-year-old former SS guard faces trial for his complicity in mass murder in a concentration camp in Stutthof – seven decades after World War II. Currently, 28 prosecutions are under way of Nazi concentration camp guards, most of them over 90.
Four months ago, eight retired Chilean military officers were sentenced to 15 years in prison for a murder committed 45 years ago. Similarly, this year four former high-ranking Guatemalan military officers were sentenced to 58 years in prison for forced disappearances and sexual abuse committed in 1981. In 2016, an Argentine Air Force brigadier, Omar Graffigna, at the age of 90, went on trial for forced disappearances.
The message these cases are sending is that you are never too old to face justice, and this is a warning to all those who think they will get away with crimes against humanity with the passage of time, and national processes of reconciliation.
Our reconciliation process was arguably over generous in offering apartheid killers amnesty, if they gave a full disclosure of their crimes. The process was inherently flawed in that many of the special branch murders did not fully disclose their crimes or they gave inaccurate versions of what happened, and still received amnesty, which went against the grain of amnesty in return for the truth.
Rodrigues may not have been a senior ranking military officer or a concentration camp guard complicit in the murder of hundreds of thousands of people, but that does not absolve him of complicity in a brutal apartheid-era murder, and his intentional cover-up over decades.
He was given fair warning, both at the time of the TRC and by Judge Billy Mothle in the Timol inquest last year, that if he came clean and told the truth, he could escape prosecution for his role in the crime, but at every opportunity he stuck to the story the Special Branch concocted to cover up Ahmed
Timol’s murder at John Vorster Square in 1971.
The judge found that not only had he perjured himself in the original 1971 inquest, and again in the 2017 inquest, but he had obstructed and defeated the ends of justice. The National Prosecuting Authority believes they have enough evidence to prove his complicity in Timol’s murder.
The prosecution of Rodrigues is significant, not only for the sake of justice and Timol’s family, but it sets a precedent in terms of the prosecution of other members of the Special Branch who tortured and murdered anti-apartheid activists and never owned up to their crimes before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.