Goldstone responds to 'death penalty' allegations

By Jessica Elgot, May 6, 2010
Goldstone: I had no choice but to give death penalty.

Goldstone: I had no choice but to give death penalty.

Judge Richard Goldstone has told the JC that his role as a judge in apartheid South Africa does not preclude him from judging war crimes.

Judge Goldstone authored the controversial UN report into Operation Cast Lead, which found both Israel and Hamas guilty of war crimes.

Israeli newspaper Yediot reported that, as a judge on the South African court of appeals in the 1980s-90s, he sentenced 28 black people to death, writing in one of his verdicts: "The gallows is the only deterrent for murderers". Other allegations were also published about his time as a judge in South Africa.

Speaking exclusively to the JC, Judge Goldstone said: “During the nine years I was a trial judge from 1980 to 1989, I sentenced two people to death for murder without extenuating circumstances.

“They were murders committed gratuitously during armed robberies. In the absence of extenuating circumstances the imposition of the death sentence was mandatory. My two assessors and I could find no extenuating circumstances in those two cases.

“While I was a judge in the Supreme Court of Appeal from 1990 to 1994, all executions were put on hold. However, automatic appeals still continued to come before the Supreme Court of appeal. We sat in panels of three and again, in the absence of extenuating circumstances, some of those appeals failed.”

He added: “It was a difficult moral decision taking an appointment during the Apartheid era. With regard to my role in those years I would refer you to the joint public statement issues in January by former Chief. Justice Arthur Chaskalson, the first Chief Justice appointed by President Mandela, and George Bizos, Nelson Mandela's lawyer and close friend for over 50 years.

“Finally, I would say that these events took place 25 - 30 years ago. At that time a number of democracies had not abolished the death sentence.

“I do not understand why my actions as a judge in those years precludes me from campaigning today against the death sentence or precludes me from judging war crimes whether committed in the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda or the Middle East.

“Other of the Yediot allegations are either false or distorted.“

Last updated: 5:35pm, May 6 2010