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Johannesburg - VICTIMS of torture in Zimbabwe found it offensive that perpetrators could visit South Africa on shopping trips and never face any legal action.
Making this submission to the Supreme Court of Appeal in Bloemfontein on Friday, advocate Wim Trengove SC said it was important that the local authorities played their part in ensuring there was no impunity for crimes against humanity such as torture.
The appeal related to the powers and duties of the South African police and prosecution services to investigate claims of crimes against humanity and, where warranted, charge those involved.
The case arose in March 2007, when more than a hundred people were rounded up by Zimbabwe police at the headquarters of the official opposition Movement for a Democratic Change in Harare. They were held for several days during which time, they claim, they were “continuously and severely tortured”.
The Southern Africa Litigation Centre then became involved in collecting affidavits from those who said they were tortured and by independent witnesses such as doctors.
On the basis of this ‘torture dossier’ the centre asked the South African police and the prosecution services to investigate and, when they refused to do so, the centre went to court.
A variety of reasons were given for refusing.
The police said any investigation would be seen as sanctioned by the South African government, and so a decision to investigate could not be taken “in isolation”.
An investigation would “compromise diplomatic initiatives in Zimbabwe” and would make things difficult for the SAPS when it took over the leadership of the Southern African Regional Police Chiefs Co-operation Organisation.
It would also be resisted by the police in Zimbabwe and effectively end co-operation on criminal investigations.
In his submissions on Friday, Trengove said the law in South Africa on this country’s international duties obliged it to help investigate international crimes regardless of whether they were actually prosecuted in the local courts.
Judgment has been reserved.