“An injustice anywhere, is an injustice to us all” – Dr Martin Luther King
Today we stand with the rest of the world in commemorating the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture also known as Day Against Torture. On the 26th June 1987, the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment came into effect. Subsequently, in 1997, it was decided by the United Nations General Assembly through Resolution 52/149 that the day should be commemorated as the World Day Against Torture.
Definition of Torture
The definition of torture in the Convention may be summarised as the intentional infliction of severe physical or mental pain or suffering on a person to obtain information or a confession or to execute punishment. The world day against torture seeks to stand with survivors of torture, to affirm dignity and to affirm humanity. The day presents an opportunity for countries to reflect on the strength of their efforts to prohibit torture.
Zimbabwe is recognised as a constitutional democracy. This means that every person living in Zimbabwe must accept the supremacy of the Constitution as mentioned in section 3 of the Constitution. Under section 53, no person shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. The wording of section 53 echoes the sentiments of the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT). Despite this, Zimbabwe is still not a party to CAT.
Of the 55 countries on the continent, only Zimbabwe and Tanzania are not signatories CAT and its Protocol.
Last year on the 24th June, Veritas petitioned Parliament for Zimbabwe’s accession to CAT. The petition called for the August House to:
- Take all steps necessary for Zimbabwe to become a party to the CAT Convention and its Protocol, and
- To enact legislation comprehensively and effectively outlawing torture as required by the Convention and Protocol. [Although the Declaration of Rights in our Constitution prohibits torture, there is no specific legislation that effectively protects citizens from both intra-party and inter-party violence as well as torture that may be inflicted on them by armed and uniformed forces.]
Further, Veritas annexed a Model Bill to the petition. The Bill can be accessed on the Veritas website.[link]
The Petition was accepted by Parliament and referred to the Portfolio Committee on Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs. But one year later Parliament has adjourned without any progress made on the petition.
Zimbabwe’s Past Commitments to Accede to CAT
On at least three occasions it has seemed that Zimbabwe was on the point of acceding to CAT:
- In May 2001 Parliament passed a resolution that Zimbabwe should accede to CAT.
- In Zimbabwe’s Universal Periodic Review report, presented to the UN Human Rights Council in October 2011, it was stated that ratification of CAT was under active consideration.
- In March 2012, responding to recommendations by the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, the then Minister of Justice told the Council that Zimbabwe would accede to the Convention.
- During the visit of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to Zimbabwe in May 2012, Zimbabwe gave her the assurance that the matter was in hand.
Since then the question has arisen in every single Universal Periodic Review at the UN which the Zimbabwe Government attends. The reply is the same: it is under consideration.
It is difficult to understand why the Government has not acceded to CAT. The Government has much to gain from accession: it would show itself to be an integral member of the international community and ready to co-operate with other governments in upholding universally-accepted human rights. It would also demonstrate the Government’s willingness to implement the Constitution and to abide by commitments previously given to the UN Human Rights Council and its own citizens.
Elections, Organised Violence and Torture
Historically, Zimbabwe has suffered from intra-party, inter-party and state violence, including beatings, torture and killings, inflicted before and after elections – though polling days are usually peaceful. This year election-related violence is already taking place. Presidential candidates have called for free, fair and peaceful elections. It would be preferable if all presidential candidates and political parties and the National Commission on Peace and Reconciliation were to call on the government to accede to CAT and be bound by an international law against torture. It would be better still if the incumbent presidential candidate used these two remaining months to sign on to CAT.
It would also have improved the election climate if:
- election reforms had taken place in time;
- we had strong laws and sanctions against violence and torture; and
- the Zimbabwe Independent Complaints Commission to deal with public complaints against security services had been set up and was functional. It was mandated under section 210 of the Constitution. After two court cases taken by Veritas, the Commission was established de jure but is still not operational.
As we join the rest of the world in supporting victims of torture, it is our hope that our commitment as a country to this day will not be mere lip service. We call upon the next government to:
- Accede to the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment [CAT]
- To domesticate the convention and enact relevant legislation
- To make fiscal commitments to the Zimbabwe Independent Complaints Commission to deal with illegal violence committed by the security services.
Veritas makes every effort to ensure reliable information, but cannot take legal responsibility for information supplied.Post published in: Featured