PRETORIA — A South African court Tuesday began hearing a case seeking to force prosecutors to investigate Zimbabwean officials accused of torturing opposition supporters in Harare in 2007.
South African prosecutors have refused to investigate the allegations.
But two rights groups argue that under South Africa’s commitments to the International Criminal Court, prosecutors must take action against high-level Zimbabwean officials accused of torture.
“Our law takes torture very seriously, particularly in light of our inauspicious history where the treatment of political opponents often meant torture,” Advocate Wim Trengrove told Judge Hans Fabricius.
“The most fundamental of human rights is the prevention of torture.”
The Southern Africa Litigation Centre and the Zimbabwe Exiles Forum filed the case, which could mark the first time that a South African judge rules on the scope of the country’s Rome Statute treaty commitments to the ICC.
The two groups are demanding that prosecutors arrest and prosecute the Zimbabweans accused of torture if they enter South Africa. The names of the officials have not been released.
“A crime against humanity is a crime under South African domestic law, wherever it is committed,” Trengrove told the court.
“You have to launch an investigation and see how far you get. Then you can judge if there is enough evidence to build a case,” he said.
“One should not prejudge the matter by simply saying it will not work. If everyone did that the purpose of the Rome Statute would be defeated,” he added.
The case centres on Zimbabwean officials accused of state-sanctioned torture against scores of activists following a raid on the headquarters of the Movement for Democratic Change in 2007.
The SALC argues that the torture was both widespread and systematic, amounting to a crime against humanity.
The SALC filed a complaint with South African prosecutors in March 2008. More than one year later, the prosecutions authority said it would not take up the case.
The Movement for Democratic Change is now part of Zimbabwe’s government, under a rocky unity pact between MDC leader, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and long-ruling President Robert Mugabe.