Ruling may force restrictions on accused Zimbabwe officials

Wed, May 9, 2012, 01:00

ZIMBABWEAN OFFICIALS accused of committing human rights abuses will have to think twice before travelling to South Africa in future, after a high court decision yesterday ordered they be investigated upon entering the country again.

Judge Hans Fabricius ruled that under the Rome statute and South Africa’s own International Criminal Act, the local authorities were obliged to investigate and prosecute international crimes, including those allegedly committed by high-level Zimbabwean officials.

The case was brought before the Pretoria high court by the Southern African Litigation Centre (SALC) and the Zimbabwean Exiles Forum, after South Africa’s national prosecution authority (NPA) and police refused to investigate Zimbabwean officials accused of torture in 2007.

The offences being scrutinised by the court included a police raid on the Harare offices of the then opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), which was brought to the South African police’s attention in March 2008.

SALC opened a docket with the police in which 17 MDC members claimed they were detained and continually tortured in police custody by members of the country’s Central Intelligence Organisation.

The Zimbabwean officials allegedly responsible for the crimes were also identified by SALC, and it was explained these officials visited South Africa occasionally.

But in June 2009 the NPA informed SALC the police did not intend to launch an investigation into their allegations. A court order compelling the police to investigate the allegations was then sought by SALC.

Mr Mugabe and several members of his ruling Zanu-PF party have been accused of committing human rights abuses, but they control much of the Zimbabwean legal system so have little to fear from prosecution there.

While Europe and the US have hit them with international sanctions, including asset freezes and travel bans, travelling around Africa has never been a problem for them.

However, executive director of SALC Nicole Fritz said yesterday’s ruling meant this was not the case any more.