Commercial Farmers' Union of Zimbabwe

Commercial Farmers' Union of Zimbabwe

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The case for Zim human rights trials

The case for Zim human rights trials

Thursday, 17 March 2011 15:17

By Pedzisai Ruhanya

FROM the Nuremburg and Tokyo trials after World War II, the International 
Criminal Tribunal on the Former Yugoslavia, the Truth Commission Hearings in 
South Africa to the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, human rights 
trials have been the major policy innovation for more than half a century 
designed to halt immense human rights violations by dictators.
In the case of Zimbabwe, particularly in this transitional period, the main 
justification for such trials is that punishment is necessary to deter human 
rights violations as the country grapples with a violent past and the urgent 
need to transit to a democratic society by organising a violence-free 
electoral process and outcome.

Given the history of successful human rights trials in post-war Germany, 
Europe and elsewhere, human rights trials during and after the transition in 
Zimbabwe will lead to improvements in the observance and protection of human 

Human rights trials are rarely merely retributive, as some have argued. The 
purpose is not only to punish perpetrators but to use this punishment to 
deter future violations.

Human rights trials are required in Zimbabwe because war veterans and 
members of their militias are encouraged to believe they are immune from 
legal responsibility for their actions.

They are fortified in this belief by amnesties granted to them by the 
government, in particular an amnesty granted in October 2000 which pardoned 
all politically-motivated crimes committed in the run-up to that year’s 
elections, except crimes of murder, rape and fraud.

This was a retrogressive policy by the Zanu PF government because it 
encouraged impunity and denied justice to the victims of human rights 

Impunity is the failure in law and practice of holding perpetrators of 
violations accountable mainly through the justice system. Zimbabweans, 
especially those belonging to  opposition parties, have been victims of both 
de facto and de jure impunity, which has led to egregious human rights 
violations beginning with the Matabeleland and Midlands massacres in the 
1980s, to the 1985, 1990 elections, 1995, 2000, 2002 and 2005 polls, and the 
repression associated with the land reform programme.

The failure to prosecute Zanu PF activists and members of the securocracy 
for these gross violations  encourages these elements to commit crimes in 
future. Resultantly, this has led citizens to lose faith in the security 
forces and the criminal justice system, especially after the purging of the 
bench by the Zanu PF government.

The perpetrators in the eras mentioned enjoyed de facto immunity from 
prosecution since more often than not the police turned a blind eye to their 
activities. This has happened each time Zimbabwe goes for national elections 
or when the opposition and civic society protest against perceived bad 

This is precisely what happened after the violent June 2008 presidential 
election run-off where more than 200 opposition supporters were allegedly 
murdered while hundreds were abducted and tortured, or abused in various 

The situation in Zimbabwe is worsened by de jure impunity, where laws or 
regulations providing impunity strengthen the impact of de facto impunity by 
making it difficult or impossible to bring to the justice system 
perpetrators of human rights violations.

Articles 7 and 18 of the Global Political Agreement, which deal with 
restorative and retributive transitional justice respectively, have proved 
to be impotent.

To compound matters, the police and the Attorney General (AG)’s Office 
continue to be accused of selectively applying the law against members of 
Zanu PF’s oppositionand civic society.

This follows the arrest of MPs from Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s-led 

Energy minister and MP for Makoni Central Elton Mangoma, Copac 
co-chairperson and MP for Nyanga North Douglas Mwonzora, Mazowe MP Shepherd 
Mushonga and Roger Tazviona (Zhombe MP), have been arrested on suspiciously 
trumped-up charges.

As a result, law enforcement agents are seen as increasingly partisan to the 
extent that Zanu PF’s opponents expect almost no protection from the law. A 
case in point is the disruption of the All Stakeholders Constitutional 
Conference by Zanu PF supporters and war veterans in Harare in the presence 
of the police in July 2009, and the violent beatings of opposition 
supporters and disruptions of Copac meetings in Harare in August 2010.

Prior to the formation of the GNU, police officers who tried to carry out 
their duties professionally were forced to resign or were transferred.

The perpetrators of violent activities were encouraged by leading members of 
the then ruling Zanu PF party, who repeatedly claimed that the MDC would 
never be allowed to come to power in Zimbabwe and that a war would be waged 
against it.

Thus in December 2000 President Robert Mugabe told a Zanu PF congress that 
commercial farmers had “declared war” on the people of Zimbabwe, that the 
white man was “not indigenous” to Africa and was part of an “evil alliances”.

“We must continue to strike fear into the heart of the white man, our real 
enemy,” he said.

These sentiments were echoed by other prominent members of the ruling party. 
This is the legacy of impunity that the GNU must address in order to foster 
justice in the country.

The African Charter on Human and People’s Rights places the obligation on 
states to ensure protection of the rights enunciated in the charter and for 
individuals to have human rights violations against them presided over by 
competent national institutions such as the courts.

Equally, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), 
to which Zimbabwe is signatory, requires that states adopt measures, 
including the legal route, to protect the fundamental rights of citizens.

The UN Human Rights Committee, an independent body made up of experts whose 
role is to monitor compliance with the ICCPR, has observed that a state’s 
failure to investigate and bring perpetrators to justice, especially with 
respect to crimes such as killings, torture and ill-treatment, is a 
violation of the ICCPR.

Zimbabwe has violated its state obligations under international human rights 
laws and it is the role of civic society organisations that have an observer 
status in Geneva to report on  Zimbabwe’s  violations.

The other way of combating impunity in Zimbabwe is to have criminal 
prosecutions of human rights violators to deter them from committing those 
crimes again.

The United Nations Security Council could be lobbied to refer the Zimbabwean 
case to the International Criminal Court for criminal prosecution.

This requires the identification of the perpetrators of human rights 
violations and submission of their names to The Hague.

This is how Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi and his cronies are being 
investigated. It is a method worth pursuing in order to halt egregious human 
rights violations as the country prepares for elections.


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