Wednesday, December 16, 2009

SA urged to arrest Zim rights violators

By Alex Bell
15 December 2009

A High Court appeal in South Africa could force the state to prosecute known Zimbabwean rights violators who travel to the country, after the South African government’s vehicle for criminal prosecution refused to do so, earlier this year.

The appeal was brought forward by the Southern Africa Litigation Centre and the Zimbabwe Exiles forum in the Gauteng High Court on Tuesday, following a decision by the South African National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) not to prosecute 18 known Zimbabwean human rights violators.

The Litigation Centre had last year submitted a dossier to the NPA with evidence that the 18, who regularly travel to South Africa, were responsible for numerous human rights violations in Zimbabwe. The dossier also included a written legal opinion reminding the NPA about South Africa’s obligations to arrest rights abusers on their territory, according to the statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) which South Africa is a signatory to.

The ICC legislation gives South African authorities the power to investigate and prosecute acts of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, no matter where those acts have been committed. This applies even if the perpetrators are not South African nationals.

The dossier by the Litigation Centre was submitted two weeks before the start of 2008 presidential elections got underway in Zimbabwe, the results of which would eventually lead to the horrific campaign of violence and rape meted out against supporters of the opposition MDC. Litigation Centre head Nicole Fritz explained to SW Radio Africa on Tuesday that after more than a year of correspondence with the NPA following the submission, the Litigation Centre in June this year finally received a letter from the then acting NPA director, Mokotedi Mpshe. He stated that he had been advised that the police did not intend investigating the matter.

Fritz explained that the case is the first of its kind for the country, and is aimed at preventing South Africa from becoming a safe-haven for those who commit crimes against humanity. She said the case will be a real test for the government’s commitment, not only to the ICC, but also to its own constitution, which is so stringent on human rights.

“South Africa has been a vocal supporter of the ambitious legislation of the ICC, because it falls in line with their own constitution,” Fritz explained. “So this is a real test for the government and their commitment to the protection of human rights.”

The case has been set down for March next year, and if successful means known perpetrators of rights abuses in Zimbabwe will not be allowed to travel to South Africa. The list of names held by the Litigation Centre has not yet been made public, but it is likely to be a high level contingent of ZANU PF loyalists, who were responsible for the 2008 election violence.

SW Radio Africa news - The Independent Voice of Zimbabwe

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