SOUTH African authorities must investigate Zimbabwean officials who are accused of involvement in torture and crimes against humanity in Zimbabwe, the North Gauteng High Court ruled on Tuesday.
The case was brought by the Southern African Litigation Centre and the Zimbabwe Exiles Forum. They sought to review and set aside a decision of the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) and the South African Police Service (SAPS) not to probe Zimbabwean officials linked to acts of state-sanctioned torture after a police raid on the offices of the Movement for Democratic Change in Harare in 2007.
The centre submitted to the NPA in March 2008 a number of affidavits in which 17 people attested to having been tortured in police custody. The centre wanted the NPA’s Priority Crimes Litigation Unit to probe and prosecute the crimes because the act states that the country is required to investigate and prosecute these crimes regardless of whether they were committed in SA.
“This judgment will send a shiver down the spines of Zimbabwean officials who believed that they would never be held to account for their crimes but now face investigation by the South African authorities,” said Nicole Fritz, executive director of the centre.
Judge Hans Fabricius said that South Africa was obliged to investigate and prosecute international crimes under the Rome statute and under its own International Criminal Act.
“This decision is not just about Zimbabwe, it also sets a much broader precedent by ruling that South African authorities have a duty to investigate international crimes wherever they take place,” said Ms Fritz. “It is a major step forward for international criminal justice,” she added.
The case began dramatically when the centre submitted an affidavit from Anton Ackermann, head of the Priority Crimes Litigation Unit, in which he said he had recommended the allegations be investigated and had disagreed with the reasons the police gave for not pursuing the case.
The litigation centre and the exiles forum focused on the errors they believe were made by former acting national director of public prosecutions, Mokotedi Mpshe, and former acting police commissioner Tim Williams in refusing to investigate the allegations.
Mr Mpshe said in his affidavit the national director of public prosecutions was not responsible for investigating the crimes. Mr Williams said the police could only investigate crimes committed in SA.