The Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC) is concerned with reports of serious human rights violations and commission of atrocities by the police forces, government armed forces and ZANU PF members in Zimbabwe since Monday 14 January. Following country wide protests to the hiking of fuel prices in the country, the government’s response towards the protests has been systematic, widespread and disproportionately brutal against its own citizens.
SALC has received credible reports that the police, government security forces and members of the ZANU PF have been using live ammunition against its own citizens who have been peacefully protesting in exercise of their rights under the Constitution. There are credible reports that doctors have treated 78 confirmed cases of gunshot wounds. There are also confirmed reports that the Police and government security forces continue to use lethal force against citizens in various Harare neighbourhoods, including Mbare, Glenview, Kuwadzana, and Chitungwiza. There is strong evidence suggesting that torture, extrajudicial killings intimidation, raids on homes for suspected leaders of the protesters, indiscriminate traffic stops, displacement and arbitrary detentions are taking place on a daily basis in the country. All these atrocities are being committed by the Police, government security forces and members of ZANU PF. There are also reports suggesting that wounded victims are being detained while they are in hospitals and taken to custody.
In addition to the above gross human rights violations, there are reports that to those who have been indiscriminately detained, access to legal representation has been denied by the authorities contrary to the country’s constitution. There are also reports of cases where detained suspects have seen their cases fast tracked with no access to legal representation.
These reports point towards gross human rights violations and raise serious concerns that Zimbabwe government officials are committing serious international crimes including torture and crimes against humanity. The commission of international crimes against the civilian population constitutes a serious violation of international law. The list of criminal conduct that constitutes crimes against humanity include murder, torture, rape, and imprisonment or other severe deprivation of physical liberty in violation of fundamental rules of international law. Zimbabwe has an international obligation to investigate and prosecute the crimes committed by the police, government security forces and ZANU PF officials against its citizens.
Should Zimbabwe take no steps towards fulfilling its obligation, the international community has an obligation to intervene in order to hold those responsible for the commission of the crimes accountable. In South Africa, this obligation was recognized by the Constitutional Court of South Africa through the National Commissioner of The South African Police Service v Southern Africa Human Rights Litigation Centre and Another (The Zimbabwe Torture Docket) decision. In that decision, the Constitutional Court held that national competent authorities including the SAPS and the NPA have an obligation to investigate acts of torture and crimes against humanity committed in Zimbabwe. The court also held that this obligation extends to the prosecution of suspected offenders who are found in South Africa, be it on a temporary basis or not, even though the crimes were committed in Zimbabwe .
As a regional body that strives to hold governments accountable for the commission of international crimes including acts of torture and crimes against humanity, SALC reiterates its position that it will take steps towards holding those individuals who are committing the crimes in Zimbabwe. SALC, therefore, calls upon the Government of Zimbabwe to investigate the crimes that are being committed against the civilian population by the police, government armed forces and ZANU PF members including acts of torture, murder, and crimes against humanity and those found responsible must be prosecuted. Should the government of Zimbabwe fail to investigate and prosecute suspected offenders, SALC will not stand by, but take steps towards holding those responsible for the commission of the crimes accountable. We call on the African Union, Southern Africa Development Community and their governments to take action, and ensure that those who violate human rights are held accountable.