SA urged to prosecute Zim officials over crimes against humanity

South Africa’s government will be in court next month in a landmark case, which seeks to compel Jacob Zuma’s administration to investigate and prosecute high level Zimbabwean officials accused of crimes against humanity.

The Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC) and the South Africa based Zimbabwe Exiles Forum have launched the case, which will be heard next month. They are asking the High Court to review and set aside a decision made by South Africa’s National Prosecuting Authority and the police not to investigate Zimbabwean officials linked to acts of state-sanctioned torture. This followed a police raid on the headquarters of the MDC in 2007.

“The decision not to pursue credible evidence of crimes against humanity was taken for political reasons, it ignored South Africa’s clear obligations under both international and domestic law,” said Nicole Fritz, Executive Director of SALC.

She told SW Radio Africa on Wednesday that the High Court in South Africa now has an opportunity to “set an important precedent, which will ensure that South Africa lives up to its legal responsibilities to prosecute the perpetrators of international crimes.”

Fritz explained that by ratifying the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, South Africa committed itself to prosecuting the perpetrators of serious international crimes, regardless of where they are committed. But she added that this case is the first time that a South African court will have the opportunity to “provide guidance on the scope and nature of the obligations placed on South African authorities by signing up to the ICC.”

This case started with a detailed docket submitted to the NPA’s Priority Crimes Litigation Unit in March 2008, which documented acts of torture committed after the Zimbabwean police raid on the MDC’s Harvest House. Fritz explained that as soon as the NPA was in possession of the docket, South Africa’s obligations to investigate with a view to prosecuting those responsible were triggered.

Fritz continued that, because South Africa is legally bound to arrest and prosecute perpetrators of international crimes if they enter South Africa, ”the Zimbabwean officials identified in the docket should have been arrested when they set foot in South Africa or at the very least questioned,”

“But no effort was made to initiate an investigation despite credible evidence. A formal decision not to investigation was only made in 2009 and no reason was given as to why this decision was made,” Fritz said.

Fritz added that continued impunity in Zimbabwe “does not bode well for constitutional reform and the possibility of free and fair elections.” She continued that “South Africa cannot afford to be seen as a refuge for international criminals the world over. It is in its own best interests to ensure that these types of criminals are brought to book.”

The case will be heard between 26 March and 30 March 2012. – SW Radio Africa News

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