South African Court: Zimbabwean Rights Abusers Must be Investigated
Tuesday's ruling by a High Court in South Africa, which mandates that authorities investigate Zimbabwean officials implicated in human rights abuses, demonstrates the court's commitment to the rule of law and represents a vital first step in assuring accountability for key perpetrators of violence in Zimbabwe.
The landmark ruling affirmed that South Africa must abide by its domestic and international legal obligations, namely the Rome Statute, which requires signatories to both investigate and prosecute perpetrators of international crimes regardless of where they are committed or by whom. The ruling definitively reversed a 2009 decision by the South Africa National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) and the South African Polices Service (SAPS) to not pursue criminal charges under the pretext that it was unconstitutional. The subsequent countersuit was brought before the High Court by the Southern African Litigation Centre (SALC), in partnership with the Zimbabwean Exiles Forum, and centers on abuses that took place in the lead up to the country’s 2008 elections during which an estimated 200 Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) activists were murdered.
A number of officials from President Mugabe's inner circle have been accused of involvement in state-sanctioned violence--including torture--against members of the MDC and civil society activists alike. Prior to Tuesday’s ruling, South African authorities had been criticized by legal professionals and human rights groups for allowing many Zimbabwean officials implicated in this violence to freely travel in and out of South Africa for both political and business activities. Freedom House roundly applauds Tuesday's High Court decision as an important step to end the impunity that has so far flourished in Zimbabwe, particularly for high level officials involved in electoral violence and crimes against humanity.