Our heroes this week are Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR) and their clients – arms deal critics Andrew Feinstein, Paul Holden and Hennie van Vuuren – who have withdrawn from the Seriti Commission of Inquiry into the R70-billion arms deal after doing their best to support it.
The decision was not taken lightly, said LHR in a statement. "It follows nearly two years of actively trying to support the work of the commission, assisted by an exceptional pro bono legal team led by Lawyers for Human Rights.
"We have taken our decision due to serious and fatal concerns we have regarding the manner in which the commission has conducted itself."
Their concerns include the commission's refusal to allow them access to crucial documents, its refusal to admit key documents; and indications that the commission is not serious about properly investigating the arms deal.
They are also perturbed by chairperson Judge Willie Seriti's ruling that unless a witness has personal knowledge or experience of matters in question, they would not be alllowed to testify. This effectively silences the critics and whistleblowers, because the ones that have the required knowledge are the ones on the inside and, said Feinstein, "It’s clear that none of these people are going to appear and announce delightedly what they’ve done."
Constitutional expert Professor Pierre de Vos agreed, saying that the manner in which the commission has been conducted has "cast serious doubt about the willingness of the commission to investigate any wrongdoing in the procurement of arms.”