Zim deliberately evading convention against torture

The Zimbabwean government is “deliberately” refusing to sign the Convention Against Torture in order to continue using torture as a weapon against its perceived enemies, human rights activists have said.

This assertion comes as the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum has taken the government to court to compel authorities to include torture as a crime in its legislation, in a case where the litigants are actual victims of organised violence or have been tortured.

According to the NGO Forum, although the matter was postponed in March, the actual argument should be heard before the end of April.

The Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment forbids torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment where State parties agree to prevent acts of torture in connection with activities such as arrest, detention, and imprisonment, interrogation; and training of police, military, medical personnel, public officials, and anyone else who may be involved in the arrest, detention, and questioning.

However, according to human rights activist, Effie Ncube, the government is hesitant to ratify the convention because violence benefits those in power.

“As we talk about torture and organised violence ahead of the elections, let’s remind ourselves that Zimbabwe has not ratified the Convention against Torture. People in government today were tortured in the 1950s and 1960s, so they should understand why torture should not be condoned in Zimbabwe. But deliberately they are not subscribing to anti-torture provisions,” he claimed.

“You would think they would be the first to sign the convention because some were detained for five or 10 years while others spent many years in the bush fighting. That in itself was torture. But when they got into government, instead of stopping torture and ratifying all the provisions pertaining to torture into our laws and domesticate them, they are not doing that.”

Ncube noted Zimbabwe’s constitution provides for anti-torture, as it contemplates a situation where the country has a free and fair election, where no one is beaten up, or prevented from freely campaigning and assembly but that right is not guaranteed.

He explained this “made it easy for violence to continue as it is perpetrated by state institutions who are involved in organised torture and violence.”

Ncube stated if Zimbabwe was serious about stopping violence, it should eliminate election violence then deal with the conflation of the State, the ruling Zanu PF party, and the government which makes it “very” difficult to operate.

“Our police must get to a stage where they are genuinely independent, like in other countries where we hear of the FBI investigating a sitting president, or even in our neighbour South Africa, where the public protector, whatever the weaknesses they have in their democratic architecture, is following up on the Phalaphala case,” said the human rights activist, remarking that “it will be very difficult to see anything done around the gold mafia looting because of the partisan nature of our institutions.”

Due to a lack of justice, Ncube predicted Zimbabwe would continue experiencing violence because “it was paying dividends and rewarding many people who are in power today.” 

“As we speak, the trend points that in the coming months, we are going to have more violence. People will be beaten up and will likely disappear,” he said.

“We’re likely going to see people tortured and nothing is going to be done to prevent that from continuing because we have not done serious institutional, cultural, attitude and individual reforms to change our society away from the architecture of violence, which was introduced in the 1950s by the resistance of blacks to the colonial government when they were demanding democracy.”

Ncube bemoaned the current government’s failure to eradicate violence from its processes.

“After the reparation strategy, we were supposed to reform our society so that it’s organised for democracy, free speech, freedoms of expression, freedom of the media, not for violence and suppression,” he said.

Public Interest Manager at the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum, Isheanesu Chirisa, said since there was no crime called torture, authorities trivialised the issue.

“This is the background of trying to compel the government to ratify the convention on torture. We have taken this case as a strategtic impact litigication, where the litigants are victims of organsised violence, people who have been tortured and people who are probably suffering various degrees of disability as a result of torture perperated against them,” she said.

“This is a case that is currently in court and was supposed to have been heard (in March), apparently it was postponed. The date for set down or the actual argument is very imminent and should be any time between now and the end of April where the court will make a determination whether they find our case meritorious.”

Chirisa said once the government is compelled by the courts, an act of Parliament has to be enacted to have a torture listed as a crime.

“Probably they will do an amendment of the Criminal Code to incorporate torture as a crime. I once heard the minister of justice saying Zimbabwe has enough laws to deal with torture which is not necessarily correct, so we don’t know the attitude of courts,” she said.

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