South Africa’s police service on Monday resumed its fight against court orders to probe crimes against humanity, committed in Zimbabwe.
Two previous South African courts have ruled that the country’s prosecuting authority and the police have a duty to investigate such crimes, because South Africa is a signatory to the international Rome Statute. The Statute is the foundation for the International Criminal Court and as a signatory, South Africa is committed to investigate and prosecute perpetrators of serious international crimes.
The original order was handed down by the North Gauteng High Court in 2012, after it was approached by the Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC) and the Zimbabwe Exiles Forum (ZEF). The two groups had in 2008 handed the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) a dossier detailing a politically motivated attack on MDC members in Zimbabwe the year before.
This dossier implicates 18 high level ZANU PF members in incidents of torture and assault, and the ZEF and SALC argued that South Africa was duty bound to investigate the individuals implicated, particularly those who travel to South Africa frequently. But the NPA and police decided not to implement an investigation.
Last year the Supreme Court of Appeal upheld the original North Gauteng order after the authorities appealed. The police in January this year then filed another appeal, this time at the country’s Constitutional Court. In its application the police state there “is at least a reasonable prospect” that the Constitutional Court could overturn the Supreme Court ruling, arguing that among other issues, an investigation would infringe on the sovereignty of Zimbabwe and damage diplomatic relations.
Lawyers for the police on Monday also argued that according to South Africa’s laws, the police are only committed to acting against international crimes when there is a link to South Africa.
ZEF Director Gabriel Shumba said the police’s appeal “lacks merit.”
“The arguments were exhausted in the lower courts and dismissed with the contempt they deserve. We are not talking about sovereignty, we are talking about international crimes, where individuals who commit these crimes can be held to account in another country,” Shumba said.
He added: “We feel dismay and frustration in this case because arguments used two years back are being regurgitated and they are political arguments, which say that the investigation would jeopardise relations with Zimbabwe.”
Judgement in the matter has been reserved.