3 December 2013

Zimbabwe: Fresh Zim Torture Docket Handed to SA Authorities for Investigation

Photo: IRIN/Mercedes Sayagues
Protesting against human rights abuses in Zimbabwe.

A new dossier containing detailed accounts of torture and abuse at the hands of known ZANU PF perpetrators has been handed to South Africa's prosecuting authorities, in the wake of a landmark ruling that compels this cross border probe.

The South African Supreme Court of Appeal last week set a precedent for the investigation of crimes against humanity committed outside its borders, after upholding a ruling by a lower court that compelled the authorities to investigate torture in Zimbabwe.

That ruling last year by the North Gauteng High Court was based on a dossier of evidence, submitted by the Zimbabwe Exiles Forum and the Southern African Litigation Centre, who handed over the document to the South African police and National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) in 2008. The dossier detailed the torture and abuse of scores of MDC activists at the hands of 18 named ZANU PF officials who were all regular travelers to South Africa.

But the NPA and the police refused to undertake an investigation, citing among other reasons potential diplomatic tensions between the two countries. The High Court however said that the prosecuting authorities were duty bound to investigate the crimes, because South Africa is a signatory to the Rome Statute.

The Supreme Court of Appeal upheld this ruling last week, opening the doors for other cases to be brought before the authorities. And on Monday a fresh dossier was handed to the police.

The new dossier, submitted by the civil rights initiative AfriForum and former Chegutu farmer turned activist Ben Freeth, contains detailed evidence of crimes against humanity committed by 58 known individuals in Zimbabwe. The dossier is based on 24 affidavits, with six from former commercial farmers and the rest from former farm workers, who suffered serious abuses during the ZANU PF led land grab campaign.

This includes vicious beatings, wrongful imprisonment in filthy, inhumane jails, the shooting of farm workers and farmers, the theft of homes, farmers' and farm workers' houses being set on fire or petrol bombed and death threats.

In one affidavit, seven labourers were picked up by police officers, beaten throughout the journey to a police station and while in custody were beaten with an armoured cable and batons. Other examples of torture committed included some victims being beaten over the head with a rifle butt which resulted in a fractured skull, or being beaten on the soles of the feet with a sjambok, logs, cables or iron bars. One of the farm workers reported being beaten over the head with an iron bar and then, after his attackers had urinated on him, they threw him onto a fire they had lit in an open pit.

The dossier also lists 58 named perpetrators, responsible either directly or as commanders of the abuses committed. Included in this list of 58 are government ministers, two members of Joint Operations Command (JOC), senior police officials, a senator, a previous government minister and his son, a Reserve Bank deputy governor, police officers of various ranks and army personnel.

Freeth told SW Radio Africa that based on the precedent set by the Supreme Court of Appeal, the South African police are now duty bound to investigate the crimes.

"The dossier shows very clearly what has been taking place, even since the (unity government) when many people have said that Zimbabwe came right. At the same time, what has happening was people were being tortured, their homes were burnt down, and people were being severely tortured in police custody. Crimes against humanity were taking place in a systematic process even when the unity government was in place," Freeth said.

The dossier was handed to the police on Monday, and Freeth said that it has been passed on to the highest investigatory body in South Africa, the Hawks.

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