Johannesburg – In a ground-breaking judgment, the South African Constitutional Court has unanimously ruled that the South African Police Service (SAPS) must investigate crimes against humanity perpetrated in Zimbabwe in 2007.
The so-called ‘Zimbabwe torture case’ was brought by the Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC) and the Zimbabwean Exiles Forum (ZEF) to compel South Africa to abide by its domestic and international legal obligations to investigate and prosecute high level Zimbabwean officials accused of crimes against humanity.
“South Africa’s highest court has set an important precedent: South Africa will not be a safe haven for perpetrators of the world’s worst crimes” said Nicole Fritz, SALC’s executive director. “The judgment represents a clear appreciation for the role of international criminal law and its importance to our domestic justice system.”
In 2008, ZEF and SALC submitted a dossier of evidence to the South African National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) and SAPS, which detailed state-sanctioned torture in Zimbabwe. SALC and ZEF hoped the authorities would initiate investigations but turned to the courts after SAPS and the NPA refused to investigate.
In May 2012, the North Gauteng High Court set aside the decision of the NPA and the SAPS not to initiate an investigation into state-sanctioned torture in Zimbabwe. The High Court ruled that the South African authorities had not acted in compliance with their obligations and held that the decision was unlawful and unconstitutional.
On appeal, at the Supreme Court of Appeal in November 2013, the Court agreed with SALC and ZEF and ordered the authorities to investigate the crimes against humanity detailed in the dossier. SAPS alone launched an appeal at the Constitutional Court which ruled that investigations must be initiated.
“After eight years of legal wrangling, we are thrilled that victims of torture in Zimbabwe now have some prospect of seeing justice served,” said Gabriel Shumba, ZEF Chairperson, “But the case doesn’t just hold out promise for victims of torture in Zimbabwe. Should it be reasonable and practicable for South African authorities to investigate international crimes committed elsewhere – for instance, the Democratic Republic of Congo – potentially the victims of those crimes might approach South Africa’s investigating authorities for assistance.”
Having exhausted all legal appeals, all eyes will turn to the SAPS who have been ordered to commence investigations.
SALC and ZEF were represented by Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR), Wim Trengove, Gilbert Marcus and Max du Plessis.
For more information:
Nicole Fritz, Executive Director SALC, Office + 27 10 596 8538; Cell +27 82 600 1082; NicoleF@salc.org.za
Angela Mudukuti, SALC International Criminal Justice Project Lawyer, Office + 27 10 596 8538; Cell +27 76 762 3869;AngelaM@salc.org.za
Gabriel Shumba, ZEF Chairperson: Cell +27 84 664 9798