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Court orders S.African prosecutors to probe Zimbabwe torture

Published on 08/05/2012

A South African high court on Tuesday ordered prosecutors in Pretoria to investigate Zimbabwean officials accused of torturing opposition supporters five years ago.

The judgement is precedent-setting in that it will force the authorities to probe not only high-level crimes committed in neighbouring Zimbabwe, but anywhere else in the world.

The Southern Africa Litigation Centre and the Zimbabwe Exiles Forum filed the case seeking to force prosecutors to open an investigation, citing South Africa’s obligations to the International Criminal Court.

The two groups want South Africa to arrest and prosecute 17 Zimbabweans accused of torture if they enter the country for holiday, shopping or seeking medical treatment.

South African prosecutors had refused to investigate the allegations, citing among other things political concerns. South Africa is the main regional mediator in the Zimbabwean political crisis.

“In my view it is clear when an investigation under the ICC Act is requested, and a reasonable basis exists for doing an investigation, political considerations or diplomatic initiatives are not relevant,” Judge Hans Fabricius said.

The National Prosecuting Authority did not indicate if it would appeal the ruling.

The case centres on Zimbabwean officials accused of state-sanctioned torture against scores of activists following a raid on the headquarters of the Movement for Democratic Change in 2007.

The SALC argues that the torture was both widespread and systematic, amounting to a crime against humanity.

“It is precedent setting in that… it makes it much more likely that those who have committed crimes such as genocide and other crimes against humanity, face prosecution if they enter South Africa,” said the group’s director Nicole Fritz.

“It’s really a groundbreaking judgement. Its sends the message that South Africa will not be a safe haven,” said Alan Wallis, a lawyer with the International Criminal Justice project.