WASHINGTON DC —
In a landmark ruling Wednesday the South African Court of Appeal has ordered the South African Police Services to investigate crimes against humanity in Zimbabwe.
The Southern African Human Rights Litigation Centre and the Zimbabwe Exiles Forum brought the case after providing South African prosecutors with evidence that Zimbabwean officials were involved in torturing opposition members in 2007.
During its ruling Wednesday, the Supreme Court outlined the evidence in the dossier noting that it included evidence of severe physical assaults, including the use of baseball bats, water-boarding and electrical shocks being applied to genitalia by Zimbabwean officials.
Zimbabwe authorities have in the past failed to investigate the allegations.
The Bloemfontein-based court ruled that alleged charges of “systematic torture” are serious enough for Pretoria to pursue their perpetrators even if it means exercising extraterritorial jurisdiction.
The court ruled that under international law, South Africa has a duty to investigate crimes against humanity in Zimbabwe once the perpetrators set foot in South Africa.
In June last year, President Robert Mugabe, speaking at a convention of southern African liberation movements urged the ruling African National Congress government to snub an earlier ruling on torture calling the probe ordered by the South African High Court “racist”.
Mr. Mugabe urged the ANC to “apply every means at their disposal” to prevent the souring of relations between Harare and Pretoria.
But ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe said the ANC as a party respected the rule of law.
Zimbabwe Exiles Forum executive director Gabriel Shumba said the ruling is significant.
“Zimbabweans can be proud today knowing that South Africa will not shirk from its responsibility to ensure justice for victims of crimes against humanity. “This judgment is a critical step in the international fight against impunity.”
In a statement, the Southern African Litigation Center director Priti Patel said, “The Court’s decision makes it clear that South Africa has a legal obligation to investigate the perpetrators of international crimes wherever those crimes were committed."
“The Supreme Court ruling confirms that the dispensing of international justice is not restricted to international forums, and commits the South African authorities to play their part in ensuring that torturers and other international criminals are held accountable for their actions.”
But Zimbabwe’s Prosecutor General Johannes Tomana said the ruling is a non-event.